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07. News hierarchy

By definition, major news is the one that matters to the reader. News hierarchy is fixed by the perimeter inside which the journalist works as a newsmaker. But, whichever the newspaper, some facts are interesting only to some readers. News hierarchy is not fixed but rather fluctuant. It’s not the same for every newspaper. 

Five natural laws :

Geographical proximity : what’s happening at home matters more than what’s happening miles and miles away. This is the raison d’être of local papers. Caesar’s landing in Great Britain is major news for the British but not that interesting for the Chinese.

Temporal proximity : what’s happening today matters more than what happened yesterday. It’s the raison d’être of daily papers. “The Rome Times” will bring you the exclusive on Caesar’s landing in Great Britain.”

Affective proximity : readers are more interested in what speaks to their heart. This is the raison d’être of magazines. Roman matrons just love hearing about Caesar’s private life. Read an exclusive interview of his wife in the “Roman Gazette”.

Practical proximity : what’s simple is more accessible than what is complex. It’s the raison d’être of free newspapers. “Daily Rome” will publish a bunch of graphs explaining Caesar’s landing in Great Britain: map of the region, troops data…

Utilitarian proximity : concrete news is more interesting than abstract ideas. New British slaves market opening on July 1st: read all about it in “Rome News”.

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The most important information is the one with the most proximity. When in doubt, discuss it in the newsroom: what will matter most to our readers ? Brainstorming helps choose your priorities and define the headlines. 

Organized hierarchy

Though information is a product, it’s no ordinary merchandise. It’s a social consumption good. Each newsroom can, in agreement with its values, build its own hierarchy. Such a thing can be done by choosing angles related to its interests and the interests or its readership.

Caesar landing in Great Britain ? Special issue from the “London Times”. Front page : “Caesar, piss off !” Inside: two stories. 1. The invaders (portrait of Caesar, biography, analysis, testimonies, etc.) 2. The resistance (report, portrait of the head of the resistance, interview of his wife, practical advice, editorial, etc…).

The best solution : segmented hierarchy

To provide the best answers… you need to divide the questions in sub-questions.

  • What matters to readers interested in home politics ?
  • What matters to readers interested in foreign affairs ?
  • What matters to reader interested in economics ?
  • What matters to readers interested in sports ? 
  • Etc…

-> Write your stories in keeping with the answers to these questions.

When in doubt : facts first and foremost. Bring the reader all the elements he needs to form an opinion.

Example of news hierarchy in a page

  1. The facts (story or report)
  2. Testimonies (report or vox pop)
  3. Reactions (report or agency wires)
  4. Now what? (analysis)
  5. Commentary (editorial)