A lot has been written about an apparent media bias — a Liberal bias because so many reporters donate to “Liberal causes”, a Conservative bias in radio because so many talk show hosts rule the airwaves with outrage. I believe the single strongest bias dominating American journalism, regardless of political inclination, is the allegiance paid and importance given to the notion that bad news sells.
Never mind the citizen and what is most important for their learning or understanding. Bad news sells, and that’s what matters most. The fevered race for corporate profits has biased the decision-makers within newsrooms toward the sensational and the negative, and readers or viewers are turning away in droves.
Even reporters are rebelling. Witness on YouTube, the on-air protest by an MSNBC news anchor who tried to burn her script after being given the Paris Hilton story as her news lead. (GNN story with video)
The constant drumbeat focused on what’s gone wrong in the world, with nary a mention of what’s gone right, is best illustrated by the Center for Media and Public Affairs study calculating that while the number of actual murders throughout the 1990’s plummeted 42%, American network news coverage of homicides jumped 700 percent during those same years. To any viewer of TV news, the country was growing ever more violent.
If it’s bad news, it’s headline news; if it’s good news, like the murder rate declining, it’s lost on page 23. This is the bias with which we should be concerned: the obvious play toward the sensational and the habitual publicizing of the worst examples of humanity.
A 2005 study by Bayer concluded that an overwhelming 93 percent of Americans wanted more good news in their media diet. 77 percent believed there was not enough good news offered by mainstream media.
No wonder people are turning to the internet for their news. A Pew research study found that while television still ranks first as a source of news among broadband users, the internet is catching up fast. Further, tens of thousands of people each year search on Google for “good news”, and most are rather surprised at what they find.
The #1 offering on Googles’s list for “good news” is a website that features all positive news stories, called the Good News Network. Started by a Virginia mom and former news professional, the website is now in its tenth year and serving over a quarter-million pages of good news each month. The site’s launch in 1997 filled a need that mainstream journalists are just now beginning to recognize.
In the face of a newspaper industry’s overall declining readership, the Grand Rapids City paper carries on their website a daily syndicated feed of headlines from the Good News Network. Next to the tab marked “Odd News” is now a tab heading for “Good News”.
Even some in the mainstream media are starting to realize that good news CAN sell:
- McClatchy Newspapers, the third largest newspaper group last year added a “good news” beat to their Washington, DC bureau and assigned a reporter to cover such stories full time. Now, occasional stories by Frank Greve are filed under a Good News banner on their website, and are distributed on the McClatchy-Tribune newswire, with headlines such as, “Violence against intimate partners down sharply”, “Fewer Americans injured, killed on the job”, and “Many patients who check into hospices to die, don’t”.
- NBC’s Nightly News experimented and discovered – lo’ and behold – good news is popular with their audience. Five nights in a row they featured stories of people who were “Making a Difference” in the lives of others. The series was so successful (the executive producer said they never had received so much mail) that they decided to continue periodically producing such stories and archive them on a special web page.
- NBC’s sister website and cable counterpart, MSNBC, now sports a regular internet column called “Wonderful World” that highlights several stories each week featuring heroes, rescues, or the odd happenstance of luck.
- KXTV-10 in Sacramento airs a weekly Friday feature called, Good News Good People, that spotlights people doing positive works within their community But these are the exceptions.
What will you and I hear and see most over the next days? Will it be a consistent choir of Liberal causes – or an ear-splitting cacophony of Conservative wrath? Maybe. What we are sure to hear and see will be celebrities out of control, fires and storms, bombings and cruelty. Thomas Jefferson said that the mission of the journalist should be to tell the truth about what is happening in the world. If the media only gives us one side, the negative, then we are not hearing the truth about society.
As the late Norman Cousins said, “If news is not really news unless it is bad news, it may be difficult to claim we are an informed nation.”
Geri Weis-Corbley is founder and managing editor of the Good News Network. She lives near Manassas with her husband and three teens. Sign up to receive her e-mail of the Top Ten Good News of the Week at www.GoodNewsNetwork.org.