The Role of Morality and Emotions in News Values

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What constitutes “news” has been a subject of academic, practitioner and public debate for centuries. In an age of digital media, clicks and shares, questions about newsworthiness and news values are decided as much by content consumers as they are by content creators. Building on scholarship by Whyte-Venables, Lule and Grabe, this paper considers news values from a moral psychology perspective. Drawing also on ideas from evolutionary and social psychology, it examines how the news media, through stories that appeal to emotion and morality, reinforce group norms and imagined communities. Specifically, it interprets news stories as ideological narratives based on the universal moral foundations delineated by US psychologist Jonathan Haidt.
The creation of heroes and villains is discussed through case studies from Australian and international media, illustrating how moral foundations contribute to group formation and group maintenance through regulation.
Examples highlight the role of emotions in sports journalism as well as general news, with analysis extending to the Trump-linked phenomenon of “fake news”. In other words, an argument is made that moral infringements have news value because they are stories about transgressions that threaten the group in some manner, and as such draw audience attention. Thus this paper illuminates why established news values have impact at both an individual and broader social level. In a post-truth world, in which norms are increasingly unshared or unclear, Durkheimian notions of anomie also inform the analysis. The work helps explain why news values vary among media outlets, which have different audiences with different interests and internal norms. This notion of different audiences contributes to the identification of worlds within worlds and assists comparison of news-making practices globally.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 07 Jul 2017
EventAustralia and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) 2017 Annual Conference - University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 04 Jul 201707 Jul 2017 (Conference website ) (Conference website)


ConferenceAustralia and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) 2017 Annual Conference
Abbreviated titleCommunication worlds: Access, voice, diversity, engagement
OtherThe conference invited reflections on the worlds of communication we inhabit, create and reshape – from ancient, modern and future communication worlds through to colonial and postcolonial worlds, activist and start-up worlds, ecologies, ecosystems and environments.

As we can see from our various encounters with the internet and social media across the globe, different types of ‘worlding’ enable and/or inhibit our access to, voice, participation in and engagement with media and communication spheres. With these four concepts in mind, ANZCA 2017 sought to explore who has access to our symbolic worlds and who is excluded from them; what knowledges, skills, resources and strategies enable us to enter these worlds; and what forms of presence these environments support, as well as what absences they suggest. Our second theme explored the concepts of voice and listening – who decides, on what terms and with what consequences, when people are given platforms to speak? How and in what contexts are they heard? Media diversity was a third theme, inviting accounts of how we might reimagine communication worlds, policies, practices and platforms for the more effective expression of cultural diversity. Engagement, our final theme asked colleagues how we might invite and recruit people to communicate in our worlds, and how we might we gauge the depth, breadth or scope of their interests, responses and contributions.
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