Monday, 29 November, 2021

What Is News?

Aashish Mishra

What is news really? We all think we know what news is – the hourly bulletins on television, the printed information on newspapers or the contents media disseminate. But is that really news? What does the word “news” mean? What does it denote and connote? Dive deeper into these questions, we might realise that we do not actually know what news is. Over the years, the word entered the common vocabulary and became so widely used that it lost all meaning and subsequently, its validity. Now, in the era of fake news and misinformation, perhaps it is time to reclaim what news originally stood for and to do that, we must take a look back at what news originally meant.
Going by the dictionary definition, news is any piece of fact or information that is collected from various sources, verified for accuracy and reliability and disseminated to the wider audience. The word “news” is derived from the Latin word “Novo” and the Sanskrit word “Nava” which both mean new. So, as the name suggests, news is a collection of new happenings.
But not all new happenings are news. They have to have a sense of urgency in that either the event has to have happened right now or, even if it happened a while ago, it must demand action at the present. News also needs to be important and relevant to the audience. For example, something that happened in Austria will not be considered news in Nepal unless it involves Nepali individuals or affects the country here. The people must have a stake in the events being reported for it to be news.
But perhaps the most important factor that determines what is and is not news is the public perception. An event could be flashed on TV, make headlines in newspapers and go viral on social media but it will not technically be news if the people are indifferent to it. News must evoke public reaction or at least, feedback.
Also, for a piece of information to be complete news, it must mandatorily answer the six cardinal questions - What happened? Who was involved? When did it happen? Where did it happen? How did it happen? And why did it happen? News cannot be complete if it does not give its audience the answer to these 5W and 1H questions. But of course, in the modern era, news is also a market product and needs things like ratings and advertising to survive. So, in order to make it “entertaining” and/or to appease the advertisers, some of these questions might be exaggerated while others may be ignored altogether. This is not an ideal practice but this is what is done in the real world.
However, we must acknowledge that these definitions of news are not set in stone. The notion of news has changed over time. Initially, news was a mere collection of information by individuals. People used to compile anything unusual they saw in the course of the day and share it with their peers. That was news. Then with the arrival of newspapers, the concept of public importance and news value arose. News became less local and more national – something that affected not just a community or a locality but large parts of the nation.
With the advent of technology i.e., radio and television, news became more accessible as individuals no longer needed to know how to read to consume it. This helped in spreading awareness to the masses and also incite revolutions – mission journalism.
Now with social media, news has again become local as things do not need to be publicly important to get a place on someone’s timeline. Individuals now have the capacity to break and disseminate news before the media. The era of citizen journalism arose.