What is news in the 21st century?

May 4, 2018

 

 

News was first introduced as a concept in the English language in the 14th century, when the word ‘news’ developed as a special use of the plural form of ‘new’. As the name implies, ‘news’ is associated with the presentation of new information.

 

Some scholars have also defined news as the information that people need to make rational decisions about their lives. Others, think that news is a commodity.

 

But nearly everything can be new information. Telling your partner that you met a person at class today can be new information. What makes news ‘newswhorthy?’

 

Newsworthiness is defined as a subject having sufficient relevance to the public or a special audience to be worthy of press coverage. In some countries and at some points in history, what news media and the public have considered “newsworthy” has had different definitions, such as the notion of news values.

 

Nevertheless, many news values seem to be common across cultures. People seem to be interested in news to the extent which they have has a big impact, describes conflicts, happens nearby and/or recently, involves well-known people, and deviates from the norms of everyday happenings.

 

When the media and communication theorist Dennis McQuail proposed in 1992 that news was “a selective, socially manufactured product with the power to determine and define events”, he hadn’t heard of social media. Not every happening is necessarily news, he wrote. His argument was based on the notion that the “gatekeepers” (journalists and editors) decide what is news and how it should be reported and disseminated.

 

However, social media has redefined the ways news can be consumed and it’s forcing us to rethink the meaning and of “news” itself.

 

When citizen journalists, digital activists or any other non-journalists produce and share news on Twitter are they not presenting us with news? Can they not be a legitimate source of information for journalists?

 

When citizens like, comment and criticize stories and journalists via social media are they not also defining what is newsworthy?

 

The audience, who for until now have been passive in the news production business, have suddenly become more real players. In the past, they only purchased news content. And if they were angry after reading biased or inaccurate stories, drafting a “letter to the editor” was their only possible way of showing concer

 

News isn’t only what the professional media decides is news. Citizens can and should decide what’s news to them. But one credible role the professional media still play is to gatekeep in terms of accuracy and reliability. Just like politics, the relevance and quality of news is something that involves both professionals and the broader civic society.

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©2018 by Stelios Marathovouniotis