What Is News?

As a journalist, you typically write articles and get to choose your story topics. Before you can do that, it's important to understand what makes something or someone newsworthy. Watch the slideshow below explaining what makes something newsworthy. Then, do the exercise below.

Journalism exercise:  What is news?

The goals of the exercise are to get students comfortable with interviewing strangers and to illustrate the challenges in finding newsworthy topics that appeal to a wide audience 

It forces students to get out of their comfort zone – i.e. off their computers and the Internet – and to go out into the real world and have face-to-face conversations with people. Today’s students are so attached to their cell phones and iPads that they lack strong interpersonal communications skills and they’re often reluctant to communicate the old-fashioned way, which is still essential for good reporting. Hopefully, the exercise inspires some critical thinking and may even give them a story idea for a future writing assignment. 

Some students are shy about approaching strangers. Some students aren’t quick on their feet, mentally speaking, and struggle with generating off-the-cuff follow up questions. To ease those difficulties, allow students to work in pairs. Journalism often involves teamwork. 

Instructions: Assign students to go out and find some news. Have them interview at least three people whom you do not know (so, no family or friends) and ask them what they think of the current state of news coverage. Where do they get their news from? Do they think the media does a good job reporting on the news? Which topics would they like to see more coverage of? Which topics should the media cover less? Students should ask follow-up questions. For example, if respondents say that they want more political coverage, students may ask which issues they specifically want more information on. Students should also ask them if they have any story ideas.

Students should go somewhere were people hang out; visit a coffee shop or walk around campus. They should talk to a diverse group of people, if possible (i.e. people of different ages, races, occupations). Get respondents’ first names, age and occupation. Students should explain that this is only being done for a school assignment and they won't be publishing the information. Students should take notes of what the people they interview say. 

Students should discuss their findings with other students and with their professor.  For example, they might report back: “Bob, a 42-year-old carpenter from New Jersey, said he gets his news from CNN and his local newspaper, the Asbury Park Press. He believes the media has a liberal bias and spends too much time covering celebrity gossip. He said he would like to see more coverage of foreign news. However, I suspect Bob was merely trying to impress me. When I pressed him on what type of foreign news needs more coverage, he said, ‘I dunno, just more foreign news.’ And, despite claiming that he despised the media for covering too much celebrity news, he sure seemed to follow it because he knew all the details about the Rhiannon-Chris Brown situation.” 

Students’ findings can be compared and contrasted with other surveys and news coverage.


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