Sunday, April 01, 2007

Adventures in news values

Here we go again with the game I like to play with my journalism students. It asks them to assess the comparative "news values" of an assortment of stories.

The game involves deciding which story deserves front-page news display.

I usually take the stories from the pages of current newspapers, although, alas, my GenWeb students rarely read newspapers, despite my urgings.

Sunday's New York Times offered an interesting array of stories for "news value" consideration. Here are headlines that went with five stories:

"For Girls, It's Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too"

"In a New Web World, Bar Codes May Talk With Your Cellphone"

"Ex-Aide Details A Loss of Faith In the President"

"25 Years After War, Wealth Transforms Falklands"

"Inspector Lists Computers With Atomic Secrets as Missing"

I should first tell you a bit more than the headlines reveal.

The first story is about the pressures on girls to succeed.

The "Ex-Aide" story is about an aide, Matthew Dowd, who was not all that close to the president. I mean, this guy was a Democrat until 1999.

The Falklands, lest we forget, are a small group of British-ruled islands off the coast of Argentina. Useful information: their chief export is frozen squid.

Finally those atomic secrets gone missing are secrets about nuclear weapons.

Okay, so what do you, Mister or Madam Editor? Which story is most worthy of the front page?

All four at the top of the list made it to prominence.

The story about the missing computers containing secrets about nuclear weapons ended up at the bottom of page 20. Hey, not a problem, especially now that we have the terrorists on the run, fighting them "over there," not here.

Who can doubt that newspapers are now in some kind of death spiral when the premier newspaper in the country buries a story that begins, "The office in charge of protecting American technical secrets about nuclear weapons from foreign spies is missing 20 desktop computers, at least 14 or which have been used for classified information, the Energy Department inspector general reported Friday."

Not that the story says "Friday," yet this was in Sunday's paper. Inquiring minds wonder what was going on with the planning of Saturday's edition of The Times.

And while the headline mentions "Atomic," the story doesn't include the word, which went out when the hydrogen bomb came in. Who knows what form "nuclear weapons" take these days—but they certainly aren't atomic.

One thing's for sure—whoever has those missing computers knows the answer.

As for the rest of us, we're still on the front page reading ""For Girls, It's Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too" and "25 Years After War, Wealth Transforms Falklands."

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