News judgment is one of those tough-to-describe intangible concepts that best represents a balance between understanding what readers want to read and knowing what they should read.
But it’s never that simple.
As journalists, we are told that we need to have “good” news judgment. But all journalists possess a different sense of what’s newsworthy based on their own values and backgrounds. So how can all of us have the same news judgment? Isn’t that what diversity is meant for, to provide different perspectives on issues?
This past week, I worked on a story about the effectiveness of solitary confinement in protecting gay and transgender immigrants held at U.S. detention centers. Although solitary confinement is supposedly used to protect these vulnerable immigrants from abuse and assault from other detainees, a new report found that the psychological trauma of solitariness can be extremely harmful and in some cases, irreversible.
I pitched this story to a couple of publications that I thought would be interested, but they didn’t want it.
Although I finally found an outlet that published my story, I did not understand why this underreported issue was deemed not newsworthy to some.
Maybe it was my background and experiences that shaped the way I saw this piece. Or maybe I need to develop my skills and gain more experience, because this isn’t the first time I felt this disconnect.
Yes, my story affected a smaller demographic (gay and transgender immigrant detainees), but that does not mean it is not important. Most good stories are rarely isolated issues, and many journalists understand that a smaller issue is part of a bigger problem. With this particular story, it dealt with the bigger picture of immigration reform and how we, as a country, treat vulnerable populations.
So the most important part of news judgment is the balance between want and need. Working at a media outlet requires a journalist to hone into the publication’s audience and understand what they want to read about. However, journalism is also about setting the news agenda and publishing stories that we think our readers should know about. How do we find that balance, especially when everyone has such different backgrounds and perspectives? Should we place want before need or vice versa?
I don’t know if there will ever be a black-and-white answer to these questions. However, I think good journalists are able to thrive in the gray areas and help their audiences understand that many issues today are rarely black and white.
LGBT immigrant story:
“Report raises concerns about solitary detention for gay, transgender immigrants”