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By Hai Lua

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A low rarity value is the chief cause, along with a lack of timeliness, for a story being disregarded or downgraded. The development has three other elements: Source The value of the development depends in part on the source from which it was obtained. An opposition politician might tell you that the president is about to resign, but if the president, or one of his close aides, tells you this then it is clearly a stronger story. It will be an even better story if you discover that he is about to resign, but also that he does not want the real reason known – and you know it and pass it on to your readers.

Under the new catchy title they then Randall3 01 chap01 27 26/2/07 10:37:34 28 THE UNIVERSAL JOURNALIST get reported out of all proportion. ‘New crimes’, such as air rage, are a classic example. Robbing people in the street, bust-ups between motorists and using cars to break into premises have been around for as long as there have been streets and cars. But given the names ‘mugging’, ‘road rage’ and ‘ram raiding’ they acquire an extra frisson and have all been the news fashion for a period. The history of this phenomena goes back a long way.

Many papers do not go this far, but those that do, and those journalists on other papers who have absorbed some of this culture, have one standard answer to objections: the readers. No group of people are more often invoked to defend the otherwise indefensible. No group of people have their appetites more regularly or wilfully taken for granted, nor their vocabularies and intelligence more patronisingly underestimated. ‘Time to go and write my 200 words for people who move their lips when they read’, as one British tabloid correspondent always used to say.

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Consumer Reports - September 2010 by Hai Lua


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