The Resignation of Pope Benedict

 Image courtesy of romanempiretours.com

The very fact that you are reading this poses an interesting question: Why exactly is the resignation of a far-away religious figure in an increasingly agnostic world such big news? Being Canadian, and hearing about this Vatican City event almost the moment it happened, this story clearly has a lot of power behind it, but what gives it this power? I will be going over the five factors of a newsworthy story to try and deduce this.

1. Timing

This is something that we certainly have. Pope Benedict’s announcement was made on February 11th, and here I am writing about it a mere three days later. Most sources reported on this announcement the same day that it was made. The expediency at which the reports of the announcement were given meant it was still ‘new’ news when we first heard about it. Still, new things happen all the time, and certainly not all of them get this kind of press, so let’s move on.

 2. Significance

In other words, how many people does this story affect? In this case, the significance of the event can be contested. Looking at it one way – that over a third of the world’s population has some form of Christian beliefs – this kind of news is more than worthy of the explosive reaction that it has received. Looking at it another way – very few people’s lives and livelihoods are actually directly affected by who the Pope is and what he does – it is outright bizarre how much media attention this has gained. Still, the potential audience is established, so let’s see if the other factors seal this deal.

 3. Proximity

As I have previously mentioned, not many people live in or around Vatican City, yet this news has gone international. Still, according to the rule of proximity, the closer one is to the source of the event, the more newsworthy it is. One can only imagine how crazy things must be over there right now, when those of us across the world are receiving this as breaking news.

 4. Prominence

This, in my opinion, is the big winner. If you are famous, you are more prominent than non-famous people, and will receive more coverage than them. Pope Benedict XVI, being the leader of one of the world’s largest faiths, and a very public figure, is more or less the biggest international celebrity without a sex scandal. A normal person could juggle flaming chainsaws on the wing of a speeding plane whilst curing five different cancers and it wouldn’t get as much publicity as Pope Benedict’s sneeze. Because so many people are familiar with his name, his face and his position, the announcement of his retirement spread like wildfire throughout the world.

 5. Human Interest

This is also an important factor, though you might not expect it at first. Human interest stories are those that go against the grain of typical news stories in an emotionally appealing way, through being funny, surprising, sad, or having some other emotional appeal. In this case, the story of Pope Benedict’s retirement reflects human interest because he is the first pope to voluntarily retire from his position in nearly 600 years. That number has sparked interest and had people wondering what it could mean for the future of the institution, making this more than just celebrity gossip news. It could mark the beginning of a major change in the Christian religious structure.

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3 Responses to The Resignation of Pope Benedict

  1. Jocelyn says:

    Right on about the prominence of the story! And you can kind of say that, since the Pope is the embodiment of the Catholic Church and there have been so many stories in the media over the past few years about sexual abuse committed by priests that there WAS a sex scandal…

  2. Alouise says:

    I think the human interest story, the fact that a Pope hasn’t stepped down in 600 years, is a big factor to the newsworthiness. It certainly changes the context of the event. I remember when Pope John Paul II passed away they showed his funeral on tv. With Pope Benedict stepping down it seems almost like the newsworthy of this will fade quicker, whereas with Pope John Paul II it seemed like there was a lot in the news about him, and his life and his work in the church, even after he died.

  3. Thom Yee says:

    I think there’s an argument to be made that any story about the Pope will transcend general news values. As you said, prominence is the biggest factor; like, hate, or remain explicitly unknowledgeable about, the Pope (or the idea of the Pope) hangs over a significant enough part of the population that anything he does, particularly something of this magnitude, has huge news worth.

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