Column - Why do newspapers print bad news?I don’t particularly enjoy public speaking, but I do look forward to talking to Christine Hollerman-Hanlon’s ethics class at the Alexandria Technical College, something I’ve been doing routinely now for several years.
By: By Al Edenloff, Editor, Alexandria Echo Press
I don’t particularly enjoy public speaking, but I do look forward to talking to Christine Hollerman-Hanlon’s ethics class at the Alexandria Technical College, something I’ve been doing routinely now for several years.
The students always raise interesting questions. Last time, for instance, a young woman wanted to know why the paper prints stories about crimes, accidents and death. She explained that her family had once been the subject of such a story and felt hurt by the newspaper’s coverage. “Why do you always have to print the bad news?” she asked.
It’s a valid question – one that newspapers struggle with on a daily basis.
At first, I tried to tell the student that the newspaper doesn’t just print “bad” news – that stories of success, accomplishments and milestones were an important part of our coverage. But then I looked at the front page of the paper I happened to bring to the class for a prop. The stories included a suspect charged with stabbing a cat to death and a terrible head-on crash in a snowstorm that left two people dead.
It was a gloomy issue, I had to admit. But, like it or not, that is the nature of the news sometimes. When bad things happen – when crimes occur and when lives are unexpectedly lost – people do want to know about it. They want to know the facts, not the rumors. In fact, it’s those kind of stories that people find the most compelling. Based on our online readership, the Echo Press’ top 20 most-read stories over the past year and a half include nine motor vehicle accidents and eight crime-related stories.
The feel-good stories about individuals triumphing over a disease, enjoying a unique hobby, having an unexpected brush with fame are popular as well – thank goodness. The newspaper is always searching for these kinds of stories and relies on readers and tips from sources to uncover them. It’s a shame that Minnesota modesty seems to stop some people from telling their stories of triumph and success. We can always use more of them.
Just because people are more intrigued by “bad news” stories doesn’t mean newspapers have to feed them nothing but negativity. Variety is key. A good newspaper should not be constantly filled with depressing, bad news.
The Echo Press, for instance, has included many positive stories in recent issues – a former resident’s design of a cup catching the eye of American Idol; a local company, Rural Cellular, winning an award for its contributions to economic development; a local woman’s passion for falconry; college students helping the hungry; an Evansville native helping injured civilians and soldiers in Iraq; students excelling in a state math competition; special education teachers helping an autistic student cope with autism; an Alexandria woman honored for her volunteerism; a local turkey farm featured on a national TV program. That doesn’t include all the accomplishments reported on our Sports pages, the promotions in the Business section, or all the births, engagements and weddings reported in the Life section.
So as depressing as newspaper coverage may seem from time to time, there is always a healthy dose of “good news” in the paper. Just as in real life, you have to look for – and remember – the good along with the bad.
If you have an uplifting story to tell – a neighbor who beat the odds, a family member who accomplished something extraordinary, a life-changing event, for the better, in your own life – let us know about it. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, call (320) 763-3133 and ask for the editor, or write to Echo Press, P.O. Box 549, Alexandria, MN 56308.
One thing I hoped to make clear to the students is that reporters – at least the ones working here – don’t enjoy writing “bad news” stories. Unlike the scoop-obsessed reporters portrayed in the movies, we’d much rather write a story about a cat that saved someone’s life instead of a suspect who was charged with stabbing one.