Monday, April 30, 2012

Lecture 9

Newsworthiness can simply be defined as the survey of certain subjects, and their ability to be regarded as news. Newsworthiness stands on shifting sands, and is forever dependent on a number of factors, both intrinsic and extrinsic; making it appear to be a relatively mythical concept. Simply, newsworthiness is shaped by news values.

So what are news values?
  • Impact – the “wow factor” and the hook
  • Audience identification – established a relationship with the reader, and draws them in by sparking stories about their interests
  • Pragmatics – ones forever changing context i.e. facticity, religious affiliation, current affairs etc.
  • Source influence – its validity and bias

A simple definition of newsworthiness can be found in the inverted pyramid. The more valuable news values are found at the top of the triangle, and essentially form ‘front-page’ news. Those less important, and less likely to be read, aren’t found on the front page, but latter in the news platform.

Another simple definition of newsworthiness can be found in the line, “if it bleeds it leads”. Tragedy strikes an interest in people, and so often characterizes newsworthiness.  

Johan Galtung and Mari Ruge perhaps provided the first definition of news values, in a paper published in 1965. Ironically the paper was not intended to define news values, but was written to advise the Norwegian press on some new methods of reporting, as Norway faced three major foreign crises. Such values fall into three main key categories.

  • Threshold: The bigger impact the story has, the more people it affects, the more extreme the effect or the more money or resources it involves, the better its chances of hitting the news stands.
  • Frequency: Events, such as motorway pile-ups, murders and plane crashes, which occur suddenly and fit well with the newspaper or news broadcast's schedule are more readily reported than those which occur gradually or at inconvenient times of day or night. Long-term trends are unlikely to receive much coverage.
  • Negativity: Bad news is more exciting than good news. Stories about death, tragedy, bankruptcy, violence, damage, natural disasters, political upheaval or simply extreme weather conditions are always rated above positive stories such as royal weddings or celebrations.  Bad news stories are more likely to be reported than good news because they are more likely to score high on other news values, such as threshold, unexpectedness, unambiguity and meaningfulness,
  • Unexpectedness: If an event is out of the ordinary it will be more likely to make it into the news than an everyday occurrence would. As Charles A. Dana famously put it: ''"if a dog bites a man, that's not news. But if a man bites a dog, that's news!"''
  • Unambiguity: Events which are easy to grasp make for better copy than those which are open to more than one interpretation, or where understanding of the implications depends on first understanding the complex background to the event.
Audience identification
  • Personalisation: People are interested in people. News stories that centre on a particular person, and are presented from a human interest angle, are likely to make the front page, particularly if they involve a well-known person. Some people claim this news value has become distorted, and that news editors over-rate personality stories, especially those involving celebrities.
  • Meaningfulness: This relates to cultural proximity and the extent to which the audience identifies with the topic. Stories about people who speak the same language, look the same, and share the same preoccupations as the audience receive more coverage than those involving people who do not.
  • Reference to elite nations: Stories concerned with global powers receive more attention than those dealing with less influential nations. This also relates to cultural proximity. Those nations which are culturally closest to our own will receive most of the coverage.
  • Reference to elite persons: The media pay attention to the rich, powerful, famous and infamous. Stories about important people get the most coverage. Hence, the American President gets more coverage than your local councillor.
Pragmatics of media coverage
  • Consonance: Stories which match the media's expectations receive more coverage than those which contradict them.  At first sight, this appears to contradict the notion of unexpectedness. However, consonance refers to the media's readiness to report an item, which they are more likely to do if they are prepared for it. Indeed, journalists often have a preconceived idea of the angle they want to report an event from, even before they get there.
  • Continuity: A story which is already in the news gathers a kind of momentum – the running story. This is partly because news teams are already in place to report the story, and partly because previous reportage may have made the story more accessible to the public.
  • Composition: Stories must compete with one another for space in the media. For instance, editors may seek to provide a balance of different types of coverage. If there is an excess of foreign news, for instance, the least important foreign story may have to make way for an inconsequential item of domestic news. In this way the prominence given to a story depends not only on its own news value but also on those of competing stories. This is a matter of the editors' judgement, more than anything else. (

Since 1965 news values have been analyzed repeatedly. In 2001, Harcup and O’Niell performed a study of the UK press, and defined news values as the following:
  • The power elite: stories concerning powerful individuals, organisations or institutions
  • Celebrity: stories concerning people who are already famous
  • Entertainment: stories concerning  sex,  showbusiness,  human  interest,  animals,  an unfolding  drama, or  offering  opportunities for humorous treatment,  entertaining photographs or witty headlines
  • Surprise: stories with an element or surprise and/ or contrast
  • Bad news: stories with negative overtones such as conflict or tragedy
  • Good news: stories with positive overtones such as rescues and cures
  • Magnitude: stories perceived as sufficiently  significant either  in  the numbers of  people involved or in potential impact
  • Relevance: stories about issues, groups and nations perceived to be relevant to the audience
  • Follow-ups: stories about subjects already in the news
  • Media agenda: stories that set or fit the news organisation’s own agenda
In a technologically driven world, newsworthiness faces various threats. Predominantly, these threats come from public relations, commercialization and the constant struggle between ideals and reality in the field of journalism. Simply, PR is making journalists lazy, commercialization is destroying quality, and the pressures of reality are forever blurring the search for journalistic ideals… or so we say.
As budding journalists we must intend to distill quality practice and performance into our work, and pursue  ‘good journalism’. Amen. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Obedient Daughter

She wasn’t given a middle name. She wasn’t allowed to cut her hair. And she wasn’t allowed to go to university. She is my Grandmother. “I wasn’t disadvantaged,” my slender Grandmother said, as I sat, feeling guilty, as her hands intertwined with one another.

She wasn’t given a middle name. I have two. She wasn’t allowed to cut her hair. I have a bob. She wasn’t allowed to go to university. I am studying a double degree. Lois Saundercock and I grew up in different eras.

Lois Drummond nee Saundercock
Lois Drummond
In 1938, Lois Saundercock was born. Lois Saundercock… Short and humble. “The girls in my family weren’t given middle names. But when the boys were born, they were granted two names, in case they needed their initials to go into business,” she said, as I coughed on guilt. My three given names now seem pompous. Who do I think I am? Royalty? How pretentious! “I was the only girl I my class without a second name,” she told me through bursts of laughter. “So I gave myself a middle name… Lois Lorraine Saundercock. I though it was so beautiful.”

Lois’ father, Henry Saundercock was a strict, religious man. He sought literal meaning from The Bible. Lois wasn’t allowed to cut her hair until high school, as hair was seen as ones “crowning glory.” “So my poor Mum, who had seven children,” said Lois,  “had to plait the hair of three girls six days a week,” laughs Lois. “It was so long, it touched my bottom. Even though Mum tried to be gentle, her calloused hands still tore at my scalp. I wanted nothing more than to wear it down, but Dad wouldn’t let me.”
Henry Saundercock
Lois' father, and my great grandfather

My brother, Hugh Tatham and Henry Saundercock
As I peer back through my tender memories of Grandma, I can only ever see her with short hair. I couldn’t imagine having hair that long. Me? I’ve had a bob from the age of three.

My mother, father, brother and I grew up in a four-bedroom house. Space was a luxury. We even have a swimming pool. The Saundercocks, however, lived in a two-bedroom house. For a family of seven children, space was tight.

At the age of 10, Lois was recommended to Parramatta High School, one of Sydney’s first selective schools. “When the schools inspector was at our primary school he looked at my results and my IQ test”, she said. “He thought my parents had got mixed up and meant to put the numbers the other way around. He was wrong. I was smart.” After being accepted, she got her teeth into learning, studying science, mathematics, literature, French and Latin. 

Five years later my grandmother was the dux of Parramatta High School. Her gender made this a rare success. Her high academic achievement, won her a Commonwealth Scholarship and a university bursary that would pay for tuition and textbooks. Despite an offer of tremendous financial assistance, a tertiary education was against her father’s rules. “My father wouldn’t let me go to university. He thought that it wasn’t sensible to spend money on girls going to university, as they were just going to marry, and stop work. He didn’t’ believe that girls deserved a university education, and that was it. That was his final decision,” she said. “One day the English Master from Parramatta High came to our house, and asked to speak to my father”, she said. “My father spoke to him on the front drive – we were poor and Mum would have been embarrassed to bring him into the house. He told my father that he owed it to the world to let me use the brains God had given me, or words to that effect. My father, and I, thought he had a bit of a hide to say that when he didn’t seem to be a church-going man himself. I can laugh now!” I’m not laughing, I think, as I sit inundated with assessments from my dual degree.

After graduating from high school, Lois’ parents sent her on a girl’s Christian camp. Councilors spoke to her about vocationally fulfilling her duty to God. “We were told to follow the talents granted to us, as it would please God.” However, this did nothing but upset her. “I can’t”, cried Lois to the councilors. “I’m not allowed to! After admitting my inability, the councilors shared with me the Bible verse that stated that children must obey their parents. So eventually I accepted that. God was calling on me to follow my fathers orders.” 

 “I was disappointed that I couldn’t go to university,” she said, eventually drawing upon her emotions. My Grandmother was unwilling to cast a negative light on her father, something I still find hard to understand. “I was disappointed, but I understood. Somehow, after sometime, I understood,” Lois remarked, as I stared into her deep-green eyes. I don’t understand, Grandma. And I doubt I ever will.

Instead of university, Lois’ father decided she should go to Metropolitan Business College for six months. She was taught Summerhayes Shorterhand, in aid of her future career as a secretary. Before too long, Lois’ talents were recognized once again. The principal of the college in Sydney came to my parents’ home and sat in our humble kitchen and asked my parents if I could stay at college till the end of the year, for no fees, to do classes in the mornings and work in the college office in the afternoons for 5 pounds a week. He told us that court reporting had just opened to women, that there was no age barrier and there was a flat rate of pay of about 20 pounds a week – that was high pay.”

By the age of 17 Lois was employed as a court reporter in North Sydney, earning an adult wage higher than that of a nurse. Her shorthand exceeded 230 words a minute, making her the fastest court reporter in Australia. “My hands would ache,” she said. “It was a very intense job. I used to finish, and burst out in tears.”

Despite her job success, Lois was still held in the tight grasp of her father’s strict rules. For her first three years of employment, Lois was forced to give her pay to her father, with only receiving five pounds of pocket money in return. Without even commenting on how she felt, she said, “I owed it to my family. Mum did have seven kids, and I was the eldest. I needed to help.”

She was denied a tertiary education, denied self-expression, denied a middle name, and yet she felt obliged to help her family. I have nothing but respect for my grandmother. Just as the Bible says in Proverbs 31:26: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”

My four grandparents and I

Hugh Tatham (my brother) and Lois Drummond

Edward and Lois Drummond, and I, at my Debutante Ball

Edward and Lois Drummond

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lecture 8

127 passengers and crewmembers died in an air crash near Islamabad, Pakistan, on April 20th. Bhoja Air’s flight entered a thunderstorm, losing control, only to crash into a wheat field. Disturbing footage has since been released by journalists, showing smoldering, dismembered bodies.

The incidents quickly began to splash across the media; coverage which did nothing but inflict pain. Graphic photographs, intrusive interviews and even footage from a Hollywood plane crash were used in the Pakistani media. When will journalists see beyond themselves, and empathise with severe loss of human life citizens were experiencing? Is sensitivity too difficult? Where is the code of ethics? It is too often, that when tragedy strikes, the media seems to loose it’s moral foundations; and blurs the line between ethical and unethical broadcast.

Just as Potter Stewart, the late US Supreme Court judge said, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.” When will you make the judgement; to publish, or not to publish?

All questions of ethicality fall into one of three categories:
Deontology stems from external rules, principles, and duty.  Ethics codes are deontologically embedded in our society. Simply, it tells us what’s wrong an right by a set of written principles. It is duty-based ethics. Contrasting consequentialism, deontology is primarily about what people do, and not the consequences of such actions.

The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy gives a plain and simple definition of consequentialism: “Of all the things a person might do at any given moment, the morally right action is the one with the best overall actions.” Essentially, consequentialism is results-based ethics. It looks beyond the quest for ethical behaviour, and stares merely at the outcomes. The general guidance for the ethical theory of consequentialism is that one should live as to maximise good consequences.

Virtue Ethics
Virtual ethics is an innate code of ethics. It stems from no external guidebook, but is simply character-based ethics. It primarily separates rightness and wrongness via moral obligation, and through a set of characteristics, such those suggested by Plato; courage, justice, temperance and prudence. These are good habits of character, and provide moral direction in one’s life.

Australia has a number of ethics codes, which apply directly to the media.
  • MEAA – Media and Entertainment Arts Alliance
  • PRIA – Public relations Institute of Australia
  • AFA – Advertising Federation of Australia
  • AANA – Australian Association of National Advertisers

This is the AFA’s code of ethics.
  • Act in the best interest of my clients to extend their financial life and abide by the laws and regulations under which I conduct business.
  • Strive to achieve the highest standards of professional competence by maintaining and improving my knowledge and skills.
  • Hold in strictest confidence and consider privileged, all business and personal information pertaining to my clients’ affairs.
  • Present accurately, honestly and completely, every fact known to me which is essential to my clients’ decision making.
  • Use all ethical means to educate my clients about their present and future financial needs.
  • To provide an appropriate level of service to my clients and their beneficiaries.
  • Maintain high standards of personal and professional conduct to reflect favourably upon the profession of Financial Adviser and serve as an example to others.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Education of Journalism

Please listen, my friends. It simply is golden. 


    (view full episode)
    With newsrooms and media outlets becoming increasingly dominated by people with journalism degrees, we find out what is being taught and whether there are anywhere near enough jobs for all the graduates.

    Wednesday, April 18, 2012

    Beer goggles

    Harriet: "Sometimes I wish I owned some beer goggles. The world would be a better place. People are sexier, jokes more hilarious, and sleep is always appreciated."

    Mum: "What on earth are beer goggles?"

    Harriet: "This is beer goggles."

    Monday, April 16, 2012

    Lecture 7

    When I was 6 years old, I was bullied, and teased, and ridiculed because I was “stupid”. Wanna know why I was called stupid? Because I hadn’t seen the latest Cinderella advertised on television. More importantly, I didn’t know what an ‘ad’ was. Yes, I am a public media baby. Sesame Street, Play School and Round the Twist all the way!

    My dad wears this shirt to bed.

    Just as Nigel Milan, the Former Director of SBS stated, "The difference between commercial broadcasting and public broadcasting is the difference between consumers and citizens"… or the difference between Barbie and climbing trees. Barbie will cost you; she’s tacky and trivial. Whereas climbing trees, is freeing; like a breath of fresh air.

    Now to the important stuff:

    As defined by public media powerhouse, WGBH, public media is,
    "Media whose mission is to serve or engage a public."
    The word, serve, is of noble meaning.

    Elwyn Brooks White, the American writer, sent a letter to the Carnegie Commission, outlining his dream of public television.
    "Non-commercial TV should address itself to the ideal of excellence, not the idea of acceptability -- which is what keeps commercial TV from climbing the staircase. I think TV should be providing the visual counterpart of the literary message, should arouse our dreams, satisfy our hunger for beauty, take us on journeys, enable us to participate in events, present great drama and music, explore the sea and the sky and the woods and the hills. It should restate and clarify the social dilemma and the political pickle. Once in a while it does, and you get a quick glimpse of its potential."
    How very beautiful.

    Similar to commercial media, public media has an important role in a democratic society. It must embed a public service ethos, and offer for public consultation. Simply, this can be referred to as “public value”.

    The function of public media is to “inform, educate and entertain”, articulated by the first Director-General of the BBC, Lord Reith. This ethos is adopted by organizations such as the ABC and SBS.

    The ABC’s charter underpins the rationale for public broadcasting via the following:
    ·      Universality
    ·      Localism
    ·      Australian Content
    ·      Program Diversity
    ·      Diversity of News and Information
    ·      Education 
    ·      Creative Risk
    ·      Quality

    This expresses the function of pubic media in nation building, preserving heritage, creating and fostering a national identity, and well as providing national conversations.

    Public media upholds a very noble aim. In order to do so, a particular style is utilized. Public media is serious, and often presented in a broadsheet style. Predominantly, it holds importance over interest, which is simply the reason why public media is made of diamonds.