Argument for joy as a news value

New study “Joy is a News Value” by Perry Parks from Michigan State University argues that journalism scholars should adjust their approaches to news by adopting joy as a news value.

Parks convincingly argues that despite the “affective turn” in journalism studies, joy is an under researched topic, and should not be so. Part of it has to do with the fact that most news emphasizes negative emotions.

It is such stories of unusual and distraying events that are newsworthy, while joy and positive emotions are typically marginalized into topic like human interest. However, even Benjamin Franklin argued that news should build people up. Thus, a view where seeking news is seen as a form of communal engagement would embrace joy. 

Traditional news values, per Galtung and Ruge’s original definition from 1965 include values such as Frequency, Threshold, Unambiguity, Meaningfulness, Consonance, Unexpectedness, Continuity, and Composition. These are culturally neutral values. In addition, they add Western values of  Elite Nations, Elite People, Persons, and Something Negative. 

Newer research has tweaked the lists significantly, with different scholars opting for different lineups of news values. Joy has been more present in earlier definitions: not as an explicit news value but as part of the discourse on which emotions news may engender. However, newer research on constructive journalism is getting closer to joy as a news value by framing news as having a solution. 

The author constructs joy as a news value not so much as a psychometric emotion or simple gratification generated or related to the news item, but more through a humanistic sense in which joy is philosophically, in a literary sense, and even theologically seen as something that releases human potential.

After a discussion on the spiritual and philosophical dimensions of joy, the author defines joy as “the cheerful harnessing of human potential in the face of all manner of adversity: material, political, spiritual”. However, for analysis, he opts to seek for Desmond Tutu’s and Dalai Lama’s eight pillars of joy: Perspective, Humility, Humor,  Acceptance, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Compassion, and Generosity.

The empirical part of the study was loosely constructed due to the topic: the author argues that coding too tightly in this might lead to a loss of the affective dimension that is interesting in the first place. Instead, he presents examples of news embodying the eight pillars of joy. 

Finally, after the examples the author presents some common notes in joy in the news. First, joy is frequent in journalistic production: often in just small amounts among extensive news or clearly so, as in Weingarten’s 2007 story about the violinist Joshua Bell in a subway stop. 

However, news that tries too hard to present itself as “good news” tends to be riddled with cliches and can come across as inauthentic, according to the author. Instead, what is preferred here are instances of performative defiance that manages to truly move the human spirit: detained climate activists forming singing circles that break, flash mobs opposing violence against women etc. 

Such stories are also frequent, and often involve a poignant, dance-like performance that breaks the news barrier.

The article “Joy is a News Value” by Perry Parks is in Journalism Studies. (free abstract).

Picture: woman standing outdoor surrounded by bobbles during daytime.

By Alex Alvarez

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