News Determinants: What is News?

A Thought Exercise Revisiting the Basic Criteria of News

Photo by Luca Onniboni on Unsplash

Over the small history of news, editors and journalists have come up with determinants 1 2 3 4 5 that define “newsworthiness”. Check off more than 1 and bam… it’s “News”. The more checkmarks, the hotter it is.

  • Proximity: The closer to you the better
  • Prominence: Famous and well-known people
  • Timeliness: “This just in…”
  • Impact, a.k.a. Consequence, a.k.a. Significance: How many people are affected
  • Human Interest: Think of these like stories which can be broken down into the same things that make any good story
    • Oddity: The WTF Factor
    • Conflict: Good vs Evil – a classic
    • Emotion: A good tear jerker.

At first glance, these mostly seem right. However society has been changing drastically and with Infotainmnet becoming more informational that our traditional news sources, maybe we should at least take another look?

The Rules

Thought exercises need some form of rules. Let’s compare the past and future. Then, look for the gaps.

For the future, because McLuhan seems to be hitting things on the nose, we’ll imagine what his Global Village could become and use that imagined place.

Let’s Begin


Historically, proximity was the ultimate indicator. Pre-telegraph, information was only as fast as the courier, and that was only as fast as the latest transportation. So of course the best, most accurate, most available, most intriguing, was what was happening around the city – your city.

In the Global Village, geographic proximity is all but irrelevant. Proximity is in the content, context, and culture of the individual/village. These could be deep-seeded villages based on genetics, heritage, sexuality, religion, or they could also be superficial self-elected communities like Craft Beer Lovers, Mountain Climbers, Political Advocates.

The Difference is instead of physical proximity it’s cultural.

How does one easily find and decide? Stop targeting demographics and target psycho-graphics. Or even better, be a part of the village you’re reporting on.


Historically, how many famous people were there? The Mayor, The King, maybe a few Lawyers? If one of the small handful were involved it was a no-brainer to call it worthy.

In the Global Village, everyone has a moment or more of fame.
Sabrina Pasterski, is just as famous, if not more in some villages, than Elon Musk.

Those important to all villages are important not because of who they are, but what they do.

The Difference is Prominence and fame are decoupled.

If that’s the case then perhaps Prominence could be taken out completely? Prominence is the person – Impact is the increasing and continued significance of a person’s actions. This doesn’t remove Actors and other celebrities. Just shifts focus from the Actors who only act – to those who make movies that make a difference, who use their name and status to impact people’s lives.


Historically, making any form of publication or media took time. A lot of time. It made sense that scooping a story right before production deadlines made it a hot commodity. Maybe another newspaper couldn’t get the edits in before starting up the presses, meaning you were the only media channel in town to have it. That meant people flocking to you for the info.

In The Global Village, all is instant, to everyone. There are no physical barriers to hit “publish.” Meaning like when the telegraph started destroying space, time to is irrelevant.

The Difference here is that it no longer becomes a journalistic decision.

Time becomes a commodity to charge for: immediacy, journalistic effort and history 6.

  • Pay more for by the second; pay a little less for once a day, and free whenever a blogger reposts ( which also come with the risk of being false )
  • Pay more for a full-page expose; a little less for a half-page; and free for a tweet.
  • Pay more to access the last 100 years or related articles; a little less for the last 5 years, free without anything related – you can go to the library of congress right?


Historically you could go around the room and simply count heads. An explosion? How many people in and around it? How many people travel by it. Multiply it by 4 or 5 and maybe you get the number of family members related. Headcount. The more involved or tied – the easier the decision.

In the Global Village, the rules still apply. However, journalistic institutes need to take more effort to uncover the villages that apply. They work to give context and educate the importance or impact.

The Difference is as society fragments, the full impact on a village may be overlooked. Work, effort, tribal knowledge is more important to uncover the real impact of events.

Human Interest

Historically these stories are the filler. When nothing is really going on find something odd, emotional, or conflicting to grab attention. Non-Fiction.

In the Global Village, everything is human interest. Yes, it has proximity, impact & prominence – each moment can spin out a multitude of varying human interest stories – and they do. It’s no longer just a car accident on the corner causing morning traffic. It’s the struggles and emotions of the person driving that distracts them for just a moment. The system forces them to have to go to work in such an emotional state.

The Difference is that Human Interest is the perspective and details. It’s the flavour of each community.

I think somewhere in the monolithic systems we’ve built around “new” we’ve forgotten that Human Interest is not a determinant, it is “the determinant” that makes a real difference. It’s the root of why we ask who, what, where, when, and why.

This post was originally published on one of my old blogs. I backdated this to the original publish date.


  1. A nice powerpoint on Newsworthiness: Google promoted this, so it’s got to be good, right?
  2. The Gully: Journalism 101: What is News? – I’ve come across this one several times
  3. Axia PR: 10 elements of news and newsworthiness – A PR perspective is good considering they work really hard to influence media
  4. Media College: What Makes a Story Newsworthy? – 2 perspectives getting to the same place.
  5. Wikipedia: News Values – way more complicated than needs be. Covers not just determinants but also supporting instances of when determinants collide.
  6. I have deep concerns about monetizing or even any ownership to journalistic archives – however I can’t deny it’s financial application.