Staff Editorial: Journalists Cover Negative News

JANIE HARRIS
Editor-in-Cheif/News Editor

As the Editor-in-Chief of The Roar: Print Edition, I am often approached by individuals at Piedmont, asking why I decided to cover a specific story. Usually, these stories aren’t the happiest news to cover or tend to paint certain entities in a poor light. And, this is a complaint seen across the country.

In fact, there have been experiments done when it comes to negative news. However, people do not realize that there are two reasons journalists cover bad news: The first is you want to hear it, even if you think you don’t, and the second is you need to hear it.

At McGill University in Canada, two researchers, Marc Trussler and Stuart Soroka, developed an experiment. Subjects were invited to the lab for a “study of eye tracking” and were asked to select some stories from a news website to read. This site had a balance of good and bad news.

They told the subjects that they had to read the whole story for the camera to be able to track their eyes.

After this phase, the subjects were asked to watch a video then fill out a sheet asking about which types of news stories they would like to read. Guess what they found?

Every person in the study choose negative stories to read—stories about corruption, deaths, hypocrisy, etc.

However, every person wrote that they preferred positive news. So, while you complain to me about how negative the news is, you prefer to read negative news. I really believe this is true, especially since, recently, I was approached by a woman about a story I wrote.

She asked me why I would write such a negative story. I asked her what other stories in the newspaper they enjoyed and prefer I write more of. She responded that she doesn’t read the newspaper much as she just read that one story.

So, you are getting upset with me for writing a story that got someone who rarely reads the paper to sit down and read an entire story? I would say that is what I am for, that and educating people on events that they need to know.

That brings me to my next point: People need to hear negative news. I know you might not want to turn on the news and hear that there is a serial killer roaming your neighborhood, but it might make you lock your doors at night. It might make you more cautious and save your life. You see more crime in the news because it is easier to find out that information quickly.

However, because people are more aware of crime and act cautiously because of it, according to the FBI, 2011 stood as the fifth year in a row to have violent crimes, such as murder, rape and robbery, hit an all-time low.

Do you know what happened between 2006 and 2011? Technology grew and news organizations were able to reach larger numbers of people. So, while you think that crime is rising and the world is doomed, you are just being better informed.

Then again, for some of you, I guess ignorance is bliss. I guess you would rather not know there is a serial killer on the loose, leaving you unaware of behaviors that might attract that individual to your home.

You need to hear some negative news. Would you rather not know that terrorists are attacking? We don’t just report on topics because we want to.

There is actually a list that many journalist have memorized about what makes something newsworthy—timeliness, proximity, impact, rarity, conflict, human interest and novelty. If a story hits one of these points, then it can be deemed newsworthy.

Next time, before you come to me complaining about the negative news everyone is covering, think about how it is newsworthy, how it could impact you or even how you still choose to read it.