Plot the Interest-Importance of a Story

Ultimately, the value of your news is defined by the subjective experience of the listener. One listener may value highly a story that another listener finds irrelevant. Your challenge, in general, is to identify and shape stories that have the highest likelihood of providing the broadest and deepest relevance to any random listener.

Determining what is newsworthy is part art, part science. It is important that you explore both and not leave the definition to others. In this way, you make your station’s news as distinctive and as relevant as you can.

Many factors drive news value. A person involved may be well known. An event may command wide notice. The topic seems to preoccupy everyone. A predicted outcome threatens to impact all residents. We may be drawn by the immediacy of the news. Or the severity of it. Even the local-ness of a story can cause the news value meter to jump.

These are all valid. But with limited resources at our disposal — and serving a discerning audience of high expectations — we must make strategic decisions about what to cover. Those stories, ultimately, need to be Important and Interesting.

Here is a simple way to compare relative news values of stories by quantifying their Interest and Importance.

News Value Matrix

The graph below uses a vertical vector to measure a news story’s “importance.” It uses a horizontal vector to measure “interest.” The scale ranges from “few” listeners to “many” listeners.

IMPORTANCE
/\
(many)
|
|
|
|
|
(few)————(many)> INTEREST

To use this matrix, take stories you are considering and plot their relative IMPORTANCE and INTEREST on the graph. A story completely on the x axis would be terribly dull (no interest) and a story completely on the y axis would be entirely without consequence (no importance). A story placed toward the lower left affects/interests fewer people than a story toward the upper right.

For example, Story A is about a film celebrity who reportedly had an extramarital affair. Story A is interesting to many but has actual importance to few. Story B is about a rewrite of the state tax code by a bi-partisan task force. Story B affects many but is not too scintillating. Story C is about a local boy killed in an accident. Story D is about a food-borne pathogen in the nation’s meat supply. Story D is clearly our most interesting AND important story.

IMPORTANCE
/\
(many)
|
|  B                        D
|
|
|
|
|  C                       A
(few)—————–(many)> INTEREST

Our goal is to find and tell stories that are both important and interesting to the most listeners. Over time, the points on our map should cluster along the diagonal… and as far toward the upper right as we can make them while still serving our particular audience.