Do you remember
that iconic song made notoriously famous by Bobby Darin, a tongue-in-cheek parody of the 1920’s German play, “Die Dreigroschenoper” (“The Three Penny Opera”)? The song was first made big in the U.S. by jazz legend Louis Armstrong in 1955, but it was Darin who made it a night club-style “classic,” winning a Grammy for Best Record of the Year in 1959 and becoming that year’s second best selling song, taking it to #1 for nine weeks.
Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear…
But can you imagine
a TV news anchor dancing atop the desk, SNL-style, gyrating his hips to a swingy beat in an irreverent mash-up of the day’s top stories? (Maybe you can, actually.)
And it shows them pearly white…
An abundance of research has shown that the news media, while not telling us what to think, clearly tell us what to think about. McCombs and Shaw did seminal work in this area in the 1970s, and their findings are still highly regarded–and have been rigorously emulated–in the academic field of mass communication through the present. This body of work has been directing our attention to—and illustrating how—some issues, values, video clips, and a milieu of daily highlights are shuffled and re-shuffled in order of importance in our minds, some decreasing and some increasing in salience and prominence among our thoughts de jure.
Just a jackknife has old Mac Heath, babe…
What’s the take away for mass comm students?
In both print and broadcast journalism classes we repeatedly stress the eight “newsworthy” elements that make a purported news story worth telling. We give examples of these and ask students to identify them both in participatory activities and on exams. The eight newsworthy elements are, in no particular order:
- prominence (of someone in the story)
- proximity (to the audience)
- timeliness (newness of the information)
- conflict (between parties in the story)
- overall impact (on the audience)
- emotional impact (on the audience)
- magnitude (how far the impact reaches)
- oddity (getting the audience’s interest)
A good understanding of these elements is essential to our students’ success in creating good, engaging news that daily readers, viewers, and web surfers will want to consume. Frequently, however, classroom discussions about which story elements would be most effective and appropriate to focus on for any given story reveal that, at least initially, students are generally unreflective about their own motivations for how their angle on the story will affect their hapless readers/viewers.
And he keeps it out of sight…
Moreover, because of the very influential power of news media to direct people’s attention and even, ultimately, to affect their attitudes, budding journalists must take their responsibility seriously as purveyors of information.
Careless Unreflective Reckless fact gathering and reporting will inevitably have deleterious effects on everything from losing credibility (on the “big” issues), to creating unnecessary alarm, to enervating democratic processes.
You know when that shark bites with his teeth, babe…
Clearly, sensationalizing violence and gratuitously feeding the basest needs of audiences for graphic “news” is not an appropriate default strategy for journalists. There is much more to informing the masses than simply being “ambulance chasers” and “doomsday prophets.” There is a far higher plane to which academia can direct its acolytes, instilling within them the desire to inspire with their writing and pictures, to create a hunger for greater knowledge of the world around them, rather than soliciting knee-jerk reactions time and again.
Scarlet billows start to spread…
Failing to instill this concern in the classroom setting, however, perhaps journalism instructors should convey to students the apostle Paul’s concern, wherein he reminds us that, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9, NASB)
Thanks for watching! Good night, and have a pleasant evening!
Darrell Roe (Ph.D., UGA, 1998) is an Assoc. Prof. of Mass Communication at ETBU. His specialty is analyzing the content of visual media and its effects on audiences.