Academic journal article Journalism Quarterly

News Use on the Front Pages of the American Daily

Academic journal article Journalism Quarterly

News Use on the Front Pages of the American Daily

Article excerpt

Three news-use patterns identified in study of front pages of 101 papers.

Although few authors agree on the definition of news, textbooks and some research suggest that news dimensions or attributes exist to guide the news professional. Terminology may vary slightly, but the news dimensions/attributes are generally agreed to be timeliness, proximity, prominence, impact, conflict, magnitude, oddity and visual.

Yet little examination of the professional's finished product-the news'appearing in a publication itself-has been attempted to determine whether any or all of the news attributes are part of the "news" or if patterns of news use appear in publications across the United States.

This study examines the front pages of a national sample of dailies in the United States to describe their use of the news attributes and to determine if any patterns of news use are evident.

Prior Studies

Several researchers have used hypothetical Q-sorts to discover how those responsible for the news would choose among sets of stories that exemplify particular news attributes.

Ward made early use of the technique, identifying high impact stories and conflict stories as preferred by 10 city editors. Badii and Ward identified three news dimensions earlier identified by Ward: (1) significance: including impact and magnitude; (2) normality: including oddity, conflict and "normal"; and prominence: including known and unknown principals. Conflict, impact and known-principal stories were preferred by the editors queried.1

Atwood found that newspeople preferred more stories with prominence than did their subscribers and were perceived by their subscribers as preferring these types of stories. (He held time and location constant.) Clyde and Buckalew found that top-level editors selected timeliness while lower-level editors stressed conflict and known-principal attributes. However, there was strong consensus among their editors for conflict, proximity and timeliness as news values.2

Culbertson's traditional journalists identified timeliness and proximity as important; interpretive (impact) news was important for the nontraditional journalists. Buckalew found that television editors in smaller markets selected more stories with proximity-a local orientation-while larger market editors chose more timely stories.3

Although they didn't use a Q-sort when they asked journalists to define news, Burgoon, Burgoon and Atkin identified five categories similar to the news dimensions: consequence (similar to impact), interest (similar to oddity), timeliness, proximity and prominence. Their newsroom personnel ranked timeliness and proximity as highest priorities for the previous day's paper. Looking at actual news use, Stempel, who examined national news in 25 large-circulation dailies, supported the concept of news as multidimensional. His factor analysis suggested six characteristics or dimensions of national news: suspense-conflict (similar to conflict), public affairs, human interest (including prominence), timeliness, positiveness (the "good" news) and political controversy.4

The researchers who have attempted to identify editor/journalist preferences for the news attributes have identified different preference patterns for different editors. Consistency seems most evident with the preference for conflict stories with timeliness and proximity also voted choices.

However, except for the Stempel study, which dealt exclusively with national and international news, these preference studies rely on a hypothetical situation. Whether the preferred attributes are evident in the journalists' news pages or broadcasts or in nonnational news is a different question entirely.

In order to determine news-attribute preferences for newspapers, this study analyzed the front pages of a composite week of 101 daily newspapers published in the United States.5 The study had two objectives:

1) To describe the content of the front pages of the dailies

2) To determine whether the content on the front pages represents a distinctive pattern of news use among the dailies. …

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