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Dec 15, 2004

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In a candid article featured in the most recent issue of the Walkley Magazine (sadly not on the web), Stephen Romei – the Australian newspaper’s assistant editor responsible for the foreign pages – has written on what he terms ‘the cynical calculus’ of news values.

Romei has headed the Australian’s foreign desk for 12 months with, he says, “increasing despair”, due in part to a ‘cynical calculus’ in which “one Australian is worth five Americans, 20 Italians, 50 Japanese, 100 Russians, 500 Indians and 1000 Africans”.

He points out that this is not a strictly Australian chauvinism, not does he claim immunity from criticism in applying the ‘calculus’ in his own editing, but, he says, journalists should be constantly thinking about this disparity in their coverage of events.

“It may sound hopelessly idealistic, but the life of an African leper should be as valuable as that of a commuter on the Paddington line. Failure to acknowledge this creates a global caste system that leads, ultimately, to Rwanda.”

Stephen Romei provides a number of ideas to address cultural disparity in news values. The most interesting is to vary the journalistic acronym WWWHW (where, what, when, how, why) to WWHWW (what, when, how, why and, finally, where).

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