Writers, like teeth, are divided into incisors and grinders

Walter Bagehot

Mar 4, 2015

Good news = no news

Why the news

must depress

It’s a common complaint that the media concentrates on the bad news and neglects the good.


On the face of it, the assertion seems irrefutable. It’s hard to watch a news bulletin or read a newspaper without being depressed by the seeming ubiquity of man’s folly and wickedness, whether the offenders are ISIS terrorists, Vladimir Putin or Russell Brand.


After all, life’s not really like that is it? As we go about our daily business we’re not confronted on every side by murder and mayhem. Sure there’s lots of bad stuff, but there are also many acts of kindness and moments of joy and humour. Why can’t journalists reflect that?


In some ways they do. If the media reports deaths, it also reports births. There was wall-to-wall coverage of Prince George’s birth – even when nothing was happening, which was most of the time. If the media reports diseases and threats to health, it’s never shy about running stories on cures being discovered, even though they almost always never get beyond the trials stage. Economic growth gets as much coverage from news reporters as recession and significant job creation probably earns as many column inches as redundancies.


So why the perceived imbalance?


The sad fact is that many events which make for bad news just don’t have equivalents that give rise to good news – at least to nothing like the same degree. Yes, to balance deaths we have births, but there’s no opposite of murder and births don’t give rise to obituaries and nostalgia pieces. It’s true that to set against war, there’s absence of war, but the headline “Britain still at peace with Germany’’ won’t sell many newspapers.


This points to a larger truth about news. News isn’t just what happens, it’s interesting stuff that happens and the fact is that human beings find interest in conflict, whether that be conflict between lovers, politicians, classes or nations. Conflict is what makes drama, it drives every novel, play and film. It also results in people getting hurt and therefore generates bad news.


They say, no news is good news. In fact, good news is no news.