Understanding "What is News & Who Decides?" through the Navy Yard Shooting

CNL News Lesson

Lesson Outline

September 19, 2013

Another mass shooting riveted America recently, when a former Navy reservist opened fire at a military facility in the nation’s capital. Police officers shot the assailant to death, but not before a dozen people were killed and several others were wounded.

The attack, the second-deadliest mass murder ever on a U.S. military base, sparked discussion on the adequacy of security at U.S. military facilities – and also reignited a debate over a host of related issues, including gun control in general, and specifically, access to guns by the mentally ill and the adequacy of treatment for the mentally ill.

This lesson looks at the latest mass shooting as a means of examining “What is News?” and “What Drives It?” We ask you to consider how editors choose which stories to cover and how to present them, while weighing such factors as editorial judgment (What else is news today?); audience (Who is our target reader/viewer/user?); profit and competition, and a host of other elements that affect their decisions.


Here are a collection of front pages that ran the day after the shooting (September 17, 2013).



What do you notice about the placement of the story on the given pages?

What factors led the editors to cover this story the way they did?

How does their presentation of the story reflect the values of their news outlet? What does it tell you about their missions? Which seem to be markey-driven and which seem to be mission-driven? How does it make you think of them and those values? Why did they present it the way they did? Why did they choose to use different photographs?

To what extent is this story

local news
national news
international news

To what extent are these “drivers” of this news:

Relevance (How wide is the story’s impact and audience?)
Importance (News and topics with great implications)
Human interest (People stories, may be more poignant than important)
Conflict (Clashes of people, institutions or ideas)
Change (Progress, regress)
Immediacy (Breaking news) & Timeliness
Magnitude (How many? Stories are driven by surprising numbers)
Social issues
Legal and constitutional issues
And finally – WHY (should you care)?

To what extent is this story about:

Mass violence
Gun control
Mental illness