News is what people want to hear or need to know. But it is difficult to define largely because stories can be presented in a variety of ways. News can inform, educate or even entertain. Hard news deals with serious topics and events. So, it must be accurate, truthful and fair. By contrast, soft news usually tries to entertain or advise.
Over the years, many leading journalists have offered some useful definitions.
Charles A Dana, Editor of The New York Sun from 1868 until his death in 1897, famously said:
- If a dog bites a man, that’s not news. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.
Lester Markel, Sunday Editor of The New York Times from 1923 to 1964, added:
- What you see is news, what you know is background, what you feel is opinion.
According to former Times and Sunday Times Editor, Harold Evans, a news story should be:
- about necessary information and unusual events
- based on observable facts
- an unbiased account
- free from the reporter’s opinion
Evans, Harold ‘’Editing and Design: Volume 1’’ (1972)
However, selecting which news stories to publish is a more complex and rigorous process than these concise definitions suggest. Just imagine, if you can, all the interesting events happening around the word within a 24-hour news cycle. Only a few hit the headlines.