THERE ARE FIVE NATURAL LAWS:
Law of geographical proximity: what is happening at home is more important than what is happening elsewhere. This is the raison d’être of the local press. Mark Pesos being taken hostage is a key event for the British, but very distant for people in Australia.
Law of temporal proximity: what is happening today is more important than what happened yesterday. This is the raison d’être of the daily press. The “London Daily News” would give priority to a detailed account of the hostage-taking of Mark Pesos at the Dosh Bank headquarters on Money Street.
Law of emotional proximity: what readers are passionate about is more important than anything else. This is the raison d’être of the tabloids. Certain readers will be more interested in the private life of the extremely wealthy Mark Pesos than in his strategic choices for the group. The “London Gazette” will give priority to an interview with his wife.
Law of practical proximity: simple information is more accessible than complex information. This is the raison d’être of the free press. “Practical London” will publish a series of infographics on the Dosh group: a map of its regional and global branches, number of employees, figures showing its turnover, etc.
Law of utilitarian proximity: specific facts are more interesting than abstract facts. This is the raison d’être of the service press. “London Services” will dedicate its front page to the city’s security services.
The most important information of all is that which combines the largest number of the above proximities. If in doubt, discuss the issue in the newsroom: what is the most important news today for the largest number of our readers? Brainstorming makes it easier to choose priorities and, in particular, dictates the composition of the front page.
THERE ARE ORGANISED HIERARCHIES
Although the news is a product, it is no ordinary commodity: it is a social consumer good. Each editorial team is able to build its own hierarchies in accordance with its own values and on the basis of natural hierarchies. It is able to do so by choosing angles of attack for the topics to be handled in order to connect its own interests with those of its readership.
Has Mark Pesos been kidnapped? “Bankers’ Magazine” immediately takes the side of its readers by publishing a special issue. Front page banner headline: “Kidnapping alert!” Body of the newspaper: two-part dossier. 1. The hostage (profile of Mark Pesos, recap of his career, analysis of the situation of the Dosh group, witness testimonies, etc.) 2. Reactions (account detailing the mobilisation of shareholders, interview with his wife, practical advice for bankers, editorial, etc.).
THE BEST SOLUTION: THE SEGMENTED HIERARCHY
To provide the best answers to the questions, the question must be divided into sub-questions:
- What matters to readers interested in domestic politics?
- What matters to readers interested in foreign politics?
- What matters to readers interested in economic and social affairs?
- What matters to readers interested in cultural and sports news?
The topics are handled accordingly.
If in doubt, prioritise the facts. Provide the reader with the tools they need to form their own opinion.
Example of a news hierarchy on a typical news page:
- A detailed account of the facts (story or report).
- Witness testimonies concerning the events (report or “vox pops”).
- Reactions to the events (report or agency wire stories).
- Questions raised by the events (analysis)
- A general commentary (editorial)