News values, your values, my values?

newsvennSo The Sunday Times unveiled its redesign today and what made me completely flip wasn’t anything design-related but simply that its biggest story was about the fallout after the breakup badminton star, Ronald Susilo and his fiance, table tennis star, Li Jiawei.

I refused to read the story but it made me reflect upon what is considered news. My argument is that news values, what matters to you as a reader and what benefits society for having news are three separate entities that do not always coincide. Based on the Venn diagram on the left, it becomes clearer.

A – This is the ideal function of news, it is information that I think is important to me and also benefits society. An example is news on the government stock-piling enough rice to last us through a food crisis.

B – This is an instance where useful information slips through newspapers. This is often due to lack of depth and the fact that the issue is something old. The alternative is usually books and things you encounter in education. For instance, information on how CPF works or how to file taxes are useful information for society to function but unless there is something new to highlight, the assumption of news values is that it is not responsible in ensuring you know something it already knows.

C – Such news is a bit more reader-centric. In fact, I would say this is better served in specialised-interests publications like magazines or newspapers that aim to serve only a certain community. An example of such news are those covered in Lifestyle, or even the fact that The Sunday Times is published in English means it matters only to those who know the language.

D – Such news usually don’t matter to you because you are not directly affected. For instance, as a Singaporean, it might not make much sense to read about what happens in the US or North Korea. But in the larger picture of things, one realises that such information is what drives foreign relations and has an impact on your society and you.

So where does the Susilo story fall into? It’s probably C or simply “What is News”. It will interest those who want to indulge in the affairs of others and is news because it is about famous people in society. And that’s why it does not matter to me, because I do not see how knowing about this piece of news benefits anyone or society.

The main story speaks volumes about what its editorial team thinks matters. Moreover, together with the launch of its redesign. I wished The Sunday Times had not pandered to such news but I think I represent a minority of its readers; this decision was about getting maximum eyeballs. It could have given more prominence to its “Think” pages, but I suppose that’s not what it thinks matters most to society nor would have appealed to most of its readers.

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