What's news? News definitions across cultures

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Pamela J. Shoemaker


News definitions, Cultures, International news, Israel, Germany

Subject Categories

Communication | Journalism Studies | Mass Communication | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This study explored how news is defined by three groups of people (journalists, public relations practitioners, audience members) and in three types of media (television, newspapers, radio) across two different cultures (Israel and Germany). Shoemaker's (1996a) theory of newsworthiness served as the theoretical background. A quantitative content analysis of over 13,000 news items from 20 newspaper, television, and radio organizations in Israel and Germany along with 18 qualitative focus group discussions were conducted to achieve three general research goals: (1) To describe and compare the kind of news produced in two different countries based on the constructs deviance and social significance. (2) To explore individual-level explanations of newsworthiness and news interest in two different countries based on the constructs deviance and social significance. (3) To inductively search for other constructs of theoretical value regarding definitions of news.

Quantitative and qualitative results reinforce the usefulness of Shoemaker's theory in explaining newsworthiness. News definitions appear to be based on the constructs of deviance and social significance across cultures, but what exactly counts as deviant and socially significant is not the same in Israel and Germany. Both deviance and social significance are strongly correlated with news prominence, but their explanatory power is low. Focus group respondents express surprisingly similar definitions of news and point to news valence and socio-communicative functions of news as additional determinants of newsworthiness. They intuitively bring up deviance, yet do not mention social significance, which is at best implicit in examples of newsworthy stories. People in both countries are generally more interested in negative news than in positive news.

Future research should elaborate Shoemaker's theory by developing revised theoretical linkages that explain the varying levels of deviance and social significance across cultures. Also suggested are a quantitative investigation of people's interest in negative news and the measurement of biological influences on news interest.


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