The psychology of newspaper journalism

BY: Larweh Therson Cofie
Newspaper journalists must know what news is and what makes news.

THE  Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English defines “psychology” as “the study of the mind and how it influences behaviour”.

“Behaviour” is defined by the same dictionary as “the way somebody behaves towards other people”.
The other meaning of “behaviour” presented by the dictionary is “the way a person, an animal, a plant, a chemical, etc., behaves or functions in a particular situation”.

This article is about the mind or psychology behind what journalists do in the art and act of producing newspapers full of news reports, news articles, feature articles, editorials and advertisements and selling the newspaper to the reading public.

This article is also about the mind of newspaper readers.
Newspaper journalists must know what news is and what makes news.

News is a first-hand, accurate, factual, balanced and unbiased report of an occurrence or event or idea that is of interest to the public and profits the newspaper owners and publishers.

Newspaper journalists must know what attracts the reader to the newspaper and to read all or part of it.
What makes up news or what attracts people to read newspapers are called elements of news.

These include impacts; newspaper readers want to know how a news report impact their lives. News about taxation is an example.
Timeliness is another element of a news report. News reports must be new and timely to attract readers.
Proximity and human interest are other elements of news.

A reader is moved to take interest in news about what is closer to him/her more than what is far away.

Human interest is what arouses or excites the reader or “pulls his/her heart strings”.
Conflict situations create news and are of interest to newspaper readers.

What is bizarre or out of the ordinary attracts readers.
Outstanding persons or celebrated individuals arouse the interest of the public.

The public want to know them; they want to know their names and about how celebrities rise to fame, money and power.


Journalism rests on three pillars or principles – truth, accuracy and objectivity.
These principles also apply to newspaper journalism. They are cornerstones of newspaper journalism.

Newspaper readers tend to lose faith with journalists who fail to observe them.
A true or a good journalist refrains from peddling fake news, innuendos, rumours and unverified or uncross-checked information received from informants.

The other side of the psychology of newspaper journalism is the newspaper design.
Newspaper design is about the layout and typography of the newspaper.
Layout is about how headlines, news reports and articles and pictures are prepared and spread across pages of the newspaper.

Typography is about the type face that newspaper journalists select and use mostly in ways that attracts the reader. Type face is a set of letters and numbers of a particular design that printers use in printing.
Beauty is an essential part of everything. Aesthetic principles are applied to make each page of the newspaper look beautiful and attractive.

The newspaper page-planner combines balance and contrast in use of type face and type sizes and of black and white space and colour to create a beautiful page.

The duty of the page-planner is to direct the reader through selection of type size and placement, to the most important and least important news items of the day.

Most important news items are indicated by big type face for headlines and more space allocation.
Another way to draw readers’ attention to important news items is to drop the first letter of the first word in the first paragraph. That means the type size of the first letter must be bigger than the letters of other words in the first paragraph.

The first paragraph of a news item is known as the lead or intro.
Knowledge of eye movement of a newspaper reader on a newspaper page is a useful guide to placement of news items on a page.
For example, the eye falls on the top-right-hand side of a single page of a newspaper.

Newspaper-page planning is conservative and is governed by principles and techniques including those explained earlier.
That is why the fundamental principles of newspaper planning have remained the same with very little change – even though the technology changes with time.

The principle that the lead must be the first paragraph and must be given prominence indicated by bigger and bold type face remains constant.

It is superfluous and a mistake to give a news item two leads.
It is also a mistake to direct the eye of the reader to another lead about the same story somewhere on the page.
To ask readers to read something somewhere on the page, serving as an intro, first before the lead, is also a mistake.

The principle is that the reader’s eye must be directed to the headline, then the lead and the succeeding paragraphs of a story.
The lead or the first paragraph must be in bigger and bold type face than that of the rest of the paragraphs.
No other matter on the page should divert the eye movement of the reader.

It is not right in newspaper planning to fix a picture of a reporter between the headline and the lead.
What readers need to know is the name of the news reporter.

It is destructive and violative of newspaper principles to plant a picture of the reporter in a space set aside for the headline, by-line and the lead.


The other part of this article is on the psychology of newspaper readers.
Newspaper journalists must understand what type of newspaper readers there are and prepare the newspaper in a way to attract the public to read.

On the news stand, newspapers that are planned with the psychology of newspaper readers in mind are picked first.

In his publication, A Typology of Newspaper Readers (1988), A. Carlos Ruotolo, lists the following as the 15 reasons why readers buy the newspaper: (1) enjoyment; (2) pastime; (3) participation and control of the environment; (4) escape; (5) companionship; (6) excitement; (7) relaxation; (8) learning of new behaviour; (9) learning about self and the environment; (10) guidance; (11) social interaction; (12) social companion (13) social connection; (14) attitudinal confirmation; and (15) habit.

Besides the motives of newspaper readers as set out earlier, there are also different types of newspaper readers.
There are readers who buy the newspaper for light-hearted or human-interest news stories and articles.

This type bypasses other news items to read reports and articles that make them happy about success stories or sad, about death of well-known persons, or rejoice at sentencing of hardcore criminals to long term imprisonment.

There are the intellectual or serious type of readers who approach the newspaper not just to get information but also for education.

This type of readers spend more time on a newspaper learning about new things.
There are readers who buy the newspaper mostly to get entertained.

They spend more time reading cartoons, humour columns and read-and-laugh columns of the newspaper.
Some readers approach the newspaper to window-shop.
They look out for what newspaper advertisers have for sale.

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.