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What is mass communications? This word combination is generally used to designate any process by which a person or a group communicates with the masses. It also describes four chief media employed in the process – the newspaper, the magazine, radio, and television. These media can be called the "media of mass communications", the "vehicles of mass communications", or "the mass media". The newspapers and magazines are often termedthe "print media" while radio and television are called the "electronic media".
All the mass media are concerned with news. It may be news of the moment, or what has just happened, or is in the process of happening. This is the kind of news usually treated by daily papers. Or it may be news of lasting interest for a general or a particular audience, as is the case with weekly papers and magazines.
The idea of what is news has changed and developed enormously with the mass readership of newspapers. To define "news" is a baffling task. An all-inclusive definition is impossible because news is a relative matter, varying sharply
1) from one paper to another,
2) from one time to another,
3) from one locality to another.
How the idea of news varies from one paper to another can be made clear by placing the tabloid (popular paper) against the quality newspaper. In the tabloid there are many stories that never appear in the quality paper – such as accounts of family squabbles, gossip about semifamous personalities. Conversely, the conservative daily carries many stories generally ignored by the tabloid – such as detailed analysis of the stock market, etc.
How news varies from one time to another can be seen by checking the stories in some newspaper for an extended period. On days when newsworthy items are scarce a routine neighbourhood banquet becomes news. On other days, like the morning after a national election, a similar banquet doesn't merit even a short.
How "news" varies from one place to another is evident from a comparison of the stories in a rural paper with those in a metropolitan daily. In the rural area a small house fire is news. In the metropolitan area a dozen similar fires are ignored.
Despite these insurmountable obstacles to establish an all-inclusive definition, journalists are in fairly common agreement that the following five qualities characterize news stories:
First, news is any printable story which will interest the readers.
Second, news is always completely true, or it is at least a set of facts that have been presented by the reporter as true. The news-teller may not resort to conjecture or supposition: he is limited to the cold facts of the story, told without emotion, prejudice, or personal opinion.
Third, news has a quality of recency about it. The old statement "as out of date as yesterday's newspaper" is still a reliable indication of the emphasis placed on the recency.
Fourth, newshas an element of proximity about it.People, generally speaking, are most interested in events that are near them in space, time and general background.
Fifth, news must have some element of the unusual about it. The unusual aspect brightens the newspaper page. Its importance is to be seen in the old saw: "If a dog bites a man, it's not news; but if a man bites a dog, it is news".
In any consideration of these five qualities that characterize "news" one caution is important. The caution that there can be no "chemistry" of the news story because newspapers do not emphasize the qualities uniformly.