(Not So) Basic Journalism Skills: News Judgment

by - August 05, 2015

What makes news newsworthy? The argument can be made that anything is news, but depending on where you are and who your audience is, not everything is newsworthy.

News judgment is something, I believe, you only develop on the job. As you move from place to place and work at different outlets, you'll realize that your news judgment is always evolving.

When you went through journalism school, you probably learned the characteristics of a news story. You might have even learned a nifty little acronym to remember them by. For me, it was TIPCUP - Timeliness, Impact, Proximity, Conflict, Unusual/Uniqueness and Prominence. The trick, though, is knowing what TIPCUP means in your newsroom.

It's all about knowing your audience. The American Press Institute puts it well - "A good story is about something the audience decides is interesting or important ... The public is exceptionally diverse. Though people may share certain characteristics or beliefs, they have an untold variety of concerns and interests."

What makes news in one market won't necessarily make news in another; in some cases, what makes news at one station/newspaper will not make news at another outlet in the same city; and what makes news can even vary from newscast to newscast.

As a producer, it's extremely important for me to know my audience. If I know 75% of my 5:00 viewers are female, why would I produce a show that appeals more to men? It doesn't mean that I completely ignore the men who watch my show; it just means there will be more stories focused on the things our female viewers care about.

The American Press Institute describes journalism as "storytelling with a purpose." I agree. As a reporter, it's important to know why a story is newsworthy. If you can't answer that question, should you really be doing the story? Probably not.

And once you've determined that a story is newsworthy to your viewers, you have to prove it.
"Readers view the news through the lens of their lives and filter the content based on their interests and concerns. Though journalists may think, in fact may know, that something is “news,” declaring it so doesn’t make it true to the news consumer. Relevancy should not be assumed. We need to prove it."

No one viewer is more important than another. And no two viewers will look at a story in the same way. It's important to remember that just because what's newsworthy in one person's eyes isn't in another's doesn't mean it shouldn't be newsworthy to everyone in your audience. It's up to you, as a journalist, to connect the dots for your viewers and/or readers. Remember, it's our duty to inform them about things they need to know but don't necessarily know they need to.

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  1. Hi, Ashton! It was basically the same decades ago when I was producing. In the daily meeting/news briefing the news director, assignment editor, anchors and producer would examine scheduled and developing stories and decide how each story ranked in importance and how it should be handled. We always asked ourselves things like "Why is this story important to our audience?," "Why should they care?" and "How does it impact their lives?" If a big national story and a big local story were breaking simultaneously, we always led the newscast with the local story because people care more about what is happening in their own back yards. No matter how hard you try there will always be complainers who phone the newsroom to ask why you didn't cover a story that was of particular interest to them or why one story was given more air time or importance than another.

    Good news judgement is important, but I believe viewer loyalty is fostered by a cohesive team of anchors, news reporters, sports reporters, meteorologists and special features correspondents. If you expect people to invite your news staff into their living rooms every day, then the on air talent need to be competent, trustworthy and likable. They need to consistently make a connection with the viewer and have palpable chemistry with each other. Viewers can usually tell when tandem anchors don't like each other. Their body language, tone and choice of words gives them away. The best news teams are the ones who genuinely like and respect each other and hang out with each other socially in their spare time.