What Makes the News
News is defined as one event in several happenings. That's why media editors differentiate what is news from what is not. News happens in the East, West, North and South. It breaks in the day and at night. Generally, it comprises reports of current happenings in scientific discoveries, politics, religions, family, fashion, business, education, entertainment, health care, transportation, tourism, telecoms, agriculture, sports and many more. Three basic sources of news are things, people and places. Things are the events that make prominence in the news as people and places are indispensable elements of any news in the media.
Personalities in power determine, define and shape what news should be through their policies, programmes, outings, dress code, electioneering and even personality. Largely, news trends follow the deeds and actions of political subjects around the world. What happens everywhere constitutes news although not everything gets published either in the traditional (radio, television ad newspapers) or new media. On hourly and daily basis, things happen in homes, schools, offices, on roads, in shopping malls, law courts, hospitals and a host of others.
We are told in the school of journalism that when a dog bites a man, it is no news but when a man begins to bite a dog, it becomes news. It must be added that this depends on the calibre of personality bitten by the dog. If a sniffer-dog, for instance, bites a governor or a high-ranking government functionary in public place for whatever reason, it becomes a newsworthy story. Or if serial biting of a dog occurs where there are several casualties, it also becomes not only news but a scoop. At times, what makes news in a clime may not necessarily do in another.
Generally speaking, news is what people are ready to watch, read, hear, absorb or carry about in form of rumours or authentic information because it sounds bizarre, new, newsy, interesting, catastrophic, lawful, unlawful, developmental, offensive, romantic, oppressive, sensational, prophetic, helpful, predictive, indicative or rib-cracking.
Different categories of people make the news. However, our media today are rife with mostly negative stories which constitute the news. Sensationalism is the order of the day in today's media reportage.
Without un-equivocation, people in government, in power, at the helm of affairs make the news the most. Many of them have stakes in the ownership and control of the media. So, the media follow them with their activities. Every day, we are informed by the media of visits of ministers and governors to a particular part of a country. More so, presidents of countries of the world with highlights of their socio-economic, political and diplomatic highlights. Their bilateral and multilateral relations are deeply echoed.
People of knowledge—teachers, academics, scholars—also make the news with their high learning. Since they theorise what many of us do not know or are yet to discover, their speech, their actions and postulations attract the media. Some of them will talk about scientific breakthrough, new research and other issues bothering on society. Among them are psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, economists, law experts, medical gurus, environmentalists, engineers, linguists, political scientists and agro economists. An endless list abounds.
No doubt, billionaires make the news. Names like Bill Gates or Aliko Dangote shake the media whenever mentioned. They move and shake the world at the highest level of entrepreneurship as they have positively influenced so many lives in terms of employment and philanthropy. So when they sneeze, cough or laugh, the media follow suit at every point in time.
Sensationalism or yellow journalism is a brand of journalism that pervades a large percentage of our media contents as it exaggerates negative happenings in the society. Most issues bordering on controversies gain more prominence in the media than those of developmental impacts. Such issues may centre on crime, sex, picketing, protests, teachers' strike, rape, cabinet reshuffle and the likes.
Actors, performers, models, athletes and artists are most favoured by media reportage. Popular ones are echoed and well chronicled in news, sound tracks, feature stories, articles, advertisements and even stand-alone pictures. Many households read, listen to and view their stories as a way of relaxation and catharsis.
Public announcements, paid advertisements, promotion of brands and products, obituaries of highly placed personalities and corporate social philanthropic programmes also constitute important media contents around the world.
Bizarre happenings are all over our media contents. A miniature horse that recently made Guinness World Record; and a lady whose two hands were deformed from nine months old but can effectively write with her toes. Conjoined twins of different nature—some make successful surgery! They are all in the news. Many more! Catastrophic news such as wars, production of WMDs, flooding, storm, hurricanes, fire outbreaks, fatal auto/plane crashes and shipwrecks are happening here or there. They are all well reflected in our media news.
Nobody in the world is independent of governments. They are ubiquitous making, interpreting and implementing the laws. Because some people—a small percentage of them—somewhere are taking decisions that affect all others, their policies at international, national and local levels fly in the news. That one frequently reads or views issues on immigration laws, government scholarships, ministerial appointments, derivation principle, fuel pump price increase, new vehicle plate numbers, state police debate and international relations and diplomacy is testimonial.
Propaganda makes news: power play among leaders in governments entails, subtly, the use of propaganda machinery to outwit one another. Accusations and counter accusations of politicians and political parties often gain media attention. People in governments, as well as their oppositions, often employ services of propagandists or 'attack dogs' to protect their interests and image in the media.
Virtually, everything now makes the news. The advent of the internet has broken barriers in terms of information access to anyone who cares to be interested. With the available resources of the new media, people now publish what goes on in their bedroom, offices, neighbourhoods, shopping malls and social functions instantly. Barriers of gate-keeping have been removed. The success of Arab Spring was largely attributed to the availability of information on the internet and social media. So are many other events too numerous to mention.
I think it is high time for world media (when we talk about media, every Tom, Dick and harry is now involved since the new media's inroad) to consider development journalism more in their contents than propaganda and sensational reporting. Since the media are like mirrors to the society, doing this will reconcile our world than it is at present.
· Idris Katib is a public relations practitioner and author based in Abeokuta, Nigeria