Initially labelled "news factors", news values are widely credited to Johan Galtung and Mari Holmboe Ruge. In their seminal 1965 study, Galtung and Ruge put forward a system of twelve factors describing events that together are used as defining "newsworthiness". Focusing on newspapers and broadcast news, Galtung and Ruge devised a list describing what they believed were significant contributing factors as to how the news is constructed. They proposed a "chain of news communication",: 65 which involves processes of selection (the more an event satisfies the "news factors", the more likely it is selected as news), distortion (accentuating the newsworthy factors of the event, once it has been selected), and replication (selection and distortion are repeated at all steps in the chain from event to reader). Furthermore, three basic hypotheses are presented by Galtung and Ruge: the additivity hypothesis that the more factors an event satisfies, the higher the probability that it becomes news; the complementary hypothesis that the factors will tend to exclude each other; and the exclusion hypothesis that events that satisfy none or very few factors will not become news.
News values are not universal and can vary between different cultures. Among the many lists of news values that have been drawn up by scholars and journalists, some attempt to describe news practices across cultures, while others have become remarkably specific to the press of certain (often Western) nations. In Western practice, decisions on the selection and prioritization of news are made by editors on the basis of their experience and intuition, although analysis by Galtung and Ruge showed that several factors are consistently applied across a range of news organizations. Their theory was tested on the news presented in four different Norwegian newspapers from the Congo and Cuba crises of July 1960 and the Cyprus crisis of March–April 1964. Results were mainly consistent with their theory and hypotheses. Johan Galtung later said that the media have misconstrued his work and become far too negative, sensational, and adversarial.
In 2001, the influential 1965 study was updated by Tony Harcup and Deirdre O'Neill, in a study of the British press. The findings of a content analysis of three major national newspapers in the UK were used to critically evaluate Galtung and Ruge's original criteria and to propose a contemporary set of news values. Forty years on, they found some notable differences, including the rise of celebrity news and that good news (as well as bad news) was a significant news value, as well as the newspaper's own agenda. They examined three tabloid newspapers.
Methodologically and conceptually, news values can be approached from four different perspectives: material (focusing on the material reality of events), cognitive (focusing on people's beliefs and value systems), social (focusing on journalistic practice), and discursive (focusing on the discourse). A discursive perspective tries to systematically examine how news values such as Negativity, Proximity, Eliteness, and others, are constructed through words and images in published news stories. This approach is influenced by linguistics and social semiotics, and is called "discursive news values analysis" (DNVA). It focuses on the "distortion" step in Galtung and Ruge's chain of news communication, by analysing how events are discursively constructed as newsworthy.
In a rapidly evolving market, achieving relevance, giving audiences the news they want and find interesting, is an increasingly important goal for media outlets seeking to maintain market share. This has made news organizations more open to audience input and feedback, and forced them to adopt and apply news values that attract and keep audiences. Given these changes and the rapid rise of digital technology in recent years, Harcup and O’Neill updated their 2001 study in 2016, while other scholars have analysed news values in viral news shared via social media. The growth of interactive media and citizen journalism is fast altering the traditional distinction between news producer and passive audience and may in future lead to a redefinition of what "news" means and the role of the news industry.