Why is Good News No News?

So here’s the thing.

Charlie Beckett is a former news editor with more than 20 years’ experience of international journalism. He’s worked in established mainstream outlets including the BBC and ITN’s Channel 4 News. He is also a professor at the London School of Economics and the founding director of POLIS; a think-tank for researching the relationship between journalism and society.

Charlie Beckett at the 2013 International Journalism Festival (photo by Chiara Di Giorgi).
Charlie Beckett at the 2013 International Journalism Festival (photo by Chiara Di Giorgi).

In short, the guy knows a thing or two about the media and how it works.

Last week he presented a programme for BBC radio in which he collated the thoughts of journalists and editors from across the industry to examine why so much mainstream news is negative (it’s an interesting piece. I highly recommend having a listen). As he himself frames it

‘The world of news [is] always on [and] always grim; war, plague, disaster, violent crime, scandal… when in fact the human race has never been healthier, wealthier or more peaceful.’

In other words, if the point of the news is to reflect the world as it is, then why does it so often feel like we’re on the verge of Armageddon whenever we watch it?

Is the world really that bad? Everywhere? All the time?

I mean, where are the good news stories?

Now the answer that’s always given, and the answer that comes up over and over in the radio programme, is that good news isn’t really news. No one’s interested in the great altruistic thing John Doe has just done for charity, or the long lost family members reunited by serendipity, or the really cool work of foodbanks (invariably staffed by volunteers) on behalf of the poor or homeless.

These things are nice, but they don’t grab the attention or sell papers. After all, reportage is a business when all’s said and done.

Which I suppose makes sense. Someone’s gotta pay for these institutions to run.

Still, I can’t help wondering whether this is entirely true, and if so, whether it’s true all the time.

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And I can’t help wondering about the wider implications of being continually presented with bad, sad news.

So I’d love to know what you think.

Do you share the view of this journalist from the programme?

‘The problem is this; no news is good news, and good news is no news. Suppose the spirit of the time is I have enough to eat and I’m reasonably secure and things are a bit dull. How does that constitute anything anybody is going to want to read? News of its necessity has to have what we call negative capability.’

Or does this opinion from the programme resonate more?

‘I think the overall story our media creates about who we are and how our world is, is no longer serving us and is increasingly at odds with our evolving sense of who we are and what’s possible.’

So. What grabs your attention in the news. What were the last few media stories you found yourself paying particular attention to and why?

Do you find positive news stories engaging?

Or does only bad news really sell?

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