News Values, Media Coverage, and Audience Attention: An Analysis of Direct and Mediated Causal Relationships

By Lee, Jong Hyuk | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

News Values, Media Coverage, and Audience Attention: An Analysis of Direct and Mediated Causal Relationships


Lee, Jong Hyuk, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


This study examined causal relationships among news values, media coverage, and audience attention. News values-deviance and social significance-for 104 news events were measured. Then, media coverage of and audience attention to the events were obtained from Pew Research Center's two data sources. A structural equation model showed a significant effect of news values on the amount of media coverage and also a significant effect of media coverage on audience attention. Further, news values indirectly influenced audience attention, mediated by the media coverage.

Various events compete to receive attention and remain as public agenda items.1 However, the carrying capacity of a public arena such as the mass media is too small to accommodate all the events, and therefore public attention is unevenly distributed to selected events. Only a few events receive intense coverage from the media and special attention from the audience.

What makes an event draw attention from the media and the audience? Many studies on news values and media sociology demonstrate that newsworthy events receive prominent media coverage.2 Then, news stories covering the newsworthy events are specially attended to by the audience because the media provide effective guidance as to which events are worthy of getting attention. This causal relationship between the media coverage and the audience's response has been reported by agenda-setting studies.

In sum, news values of an event predict media coverage of the event, and the media coverage predicts audience attention to the event. The goal of this study is to empirically investigate all possible relationships among the three variables: the effect of news values on media coverage, the effect of media coverage on audience attention, and the mediated effect of news values on audience attention through the media coverage. This approach requires us to combine news production perspectives (news values -> media coverage) with media effect perspectives (media coverage -> audience attention). Additionally, a direct effect of news values on audience attention without the mediation of the media coverage will be examined.

Literature Review

Effects of News Values on Media Attention. Journalists have a shared understanding about what events are newsworthy and how prominently the events should be covered.3 Frequently cited news values include novelty or oddity, conflict or controversy, interest, importance, impact or consequence, sensationalism, timeliness, and proximity.4

One scholarly approach to news values was taken by Galtung and Ruge.5 Examining Norwegian newspaper stories on international events, they proposed twelve news values: frequency, threshold, unambiguity, meaningfulness, consonance, unexpectedness, continuity, composition, reference to elite nations, reference to elite people, reference to persons, and reference to something negative. Recently, Harcup and O'Neill presented ten revised news values: power elite, celebrity, entertainment, surprise, bad news, good news, magnitude, relevance, follow-up, and newspaper agenda.6 Many other news values were also addressed in international news studies.7

Recently, Shoemaker and her colleagues' newsworthiness model suggested two main concepts - deviance and social significance - that encompass most previous news values.8 Deviance refers to the news events that are unusual (statistical deviance), threaten status quo (social change deviance), or break social norms (normative deviance). This concept includes traditional news values such as novelty, oddity, unusualness, conflict, and controversy. Socie/ significance refers to the events perceived to be important in a society and has four dimensions: political, economic, cultural, and public. News values such as importance, impact, and consequence belong to social significance.

Shoemaker further explicated why people attend to the events that are deviant or socially significant. …

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