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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

What is Newsworthy?

Bella Rios

Bella Rios was a 2018-2019 Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

A popular segment of the school newspaper lists the campus safety reports, which often includes situations in which students engage in bizarre and impulsive behavior. The paper has recently decided to republish these reports on its Twitter account in an effort to increase readership.

Fatimah, a reporter who manages the paper’s social media accounts, tweets about a student who got trapped in the dining hall’s freezer and was discovered by campus safety officers. The student was then transported to the hospital. The tweet goes viral, receiving more than 20,000 retweets in less than a day.

Fatimah reflects on the popularity of the tweet. Those who retweeted congratulated the student and joked about their own shenanigans on campus. The appeal of the tweet clearly stemmed from its humor.

The tweet’s viral nature serves as publicity for the paper and provides the unique opportunity to increase readership. Through these tweets, the newspaper can engage students on a digital platform and, by garnering more followers, can promote its more groundbreaking pieces to a larger audience. If students actively participate online, they may be more likely to read news digitally.

Fatimah, however, is uneasy about whether the campus safety reports should be categorized as news. Students have a desire, as demonstrated by the tweet’s virality, to stay informed about such incidents. Yet Fatimah is skeptical about the newsworthiness of such reports.

Do campus safety reports prompt integral discussions about safety and student conduct? Or are they merely appealing for their entertaining content? Fatimah is unsure of whether campus safety reports should be tweeted from the paper’s account.

Discussion Questions

1. How should student journalists define newsworthiness? In other words, what should qualify as news?
2. What are potential consequences of making editorial decisions based on virality?
3. How can the paper appeal to readers’ interests but avoid sensationalism?
4. Should the campus safety reports be republished through the paper’s Twitter account?

Jun 7, 2019