A news story for months

After watching the Netflix documentary American Crime Story: The People vs O. J. Simpson, I realized that the “trial of the century” makes a good example of news value theory. Not only according to some of the news factors of Galtung and Ruge (1965), but it scores (almost) a 10/10 in the category “entertainment” of Harcup and O’neill (2001).

First, what happened? American football-player O. J. Simpson was accused of the murder of ex-wife Nicole Brown and her boyfriend Ronald Goldman. There was a lot of evidence – his blood was all over the crime scene (to say the least) ­– but after a trial of 133 days, he was acquitted.

The story meets some of the 12 factors of Galtung and Ruge (1965). Besides being one of America’s most famous football players, O. J. Simpson acted in commercials and TV-series (elite person). Also, it was a gruesome murder with a lot of blood (threshold) and after the incident for months the news was all over O. J., his family and the prosecutors and the course of the trial (continuity). And additionally, what struck most people by surprise was that such a charming man could have committed such a horrible crime (unexpected).

Furthermore, this “fall of an American hero” is very entertainment worthy according to Harcup and O’neill (2001). How so? Pictures were very important in the news coverage. For example, his skin color on a mug shot was made darker on Time magazine, which became news itself. Also, when he was on a wild chase in his car with a gun to his head, it was live broadcasted on TV-channels (for example half-on-half with a football game). But most importantly, the trial led to a lot of discussion about the inequality between white and black people in American society. So altogether, all the news surrounding the case became more dramatic, it was a human-interest and everyone wanted to be on top of it. And that’s news.   

– Galtung, Johan and Mari Holmboe Ruge. “The Structure of Foreign News” Journal of Peace Research 2.1 (1965): 64-91.

– Harcup, Tony and Deirdre O’Neill. “What Is News? Galtung and Ruge revisited.” Journalism Studies 2:2 (2001): 261-280.

Leave a Reply