Challenging the bearers of bad news

I am often asked, given that I spent half of my professional media career as a secular broadcast journalist, why the media spend so much time covering violent and depressing stories such as shootings, riots, murders, car crashes, wars and more? Aren’t there any good news stories out there?

There are very practical reasons why bad news is more prevalent than the good. But ask pretty much anyone in secular news management and you won’t receive a very direct answer.

What you will most likely hear, and I can verify this because this is what news folks are told to say in response to the concerns raised about the overwhelmingly negative and sensational content, is that it’s the fault of society and the public, not the press.

Yes, you read correctly. It’s our fault.

If we weren’t such a bunch of deviants causing all the death and destruction out there, then the media would be able to make us smile a great deal more every time we picked up the paper or turned on the news. The standard reply usually goes something like this:

“Well, we in the news media don’t like to report so much sad news but we are merely holding up a mirror to society. The stories are a reflection on the many problems in our world today,” blah, blah, blah.

I am no psychologist but it is quite obvious the projection and deflection going on here.  If they can blame us, then they don’t have to be truthful with their audience when it comes to the never-ending cycle of bad news. If they were being honest the reply would detail one of their biggest agendas: money as in the bottom line.

Yes, the media, as we have seen like never before in the past year leading up to the Presidential election, have quite a few agendas. If news directors, publishers, and station managers were suddenly given a truth serum, their explanation would include one of their biggest agendas as in making money.

“Bad news is much easier and cheaper to cover. There is a lot of it and very easy to find. It doesn’t take a lot of investigating or an experienced Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to cover the local house fire, police raid or car-jacking. We can pull the live news van up to the crime scene and park our crew there all day long. We have everything that we need. The flashing police lights, emotional neighbors or family members, and we barely had to break a sweat to get our ‘breaking’ news.”

The media think they’re pulling a fast one over on the public with their “we’re just doing our job” response.  But Pope Francis isn’t fooled by and we shouldn’t be either. He makes this point in his just released 2017 World Communications Day statement, “Fear Not. I Am with You; Communicating Hope and Trust in Our Time,” in which he encourages journalists everywhere that they can and should do better.

“I am convinced that we have to break the vicious circle of anxiety and stem the spiral of fear resulting from a constant focus on ‘bad news’ (wars, terrorism, scandals and all sorts of human failure). This has nothing to do with spreading misinformation that would ignore the tragedy of human suffering, nor is it about a naive optimism blind to the scandal of evil. Rather, I propose that all of us work at overcoming that feeling of growing discontent and resignation that can at times generate apathy, fear or the idea that evil has no limits.”

Pope Francis realizes the media can’t act as if we have a Shangri-La type of existence void of the reality of problems and suffering. However, he also reminds them to balance the negative reporting with stories of hope and to not automatically assume that good news won’t sell.

“I ask everyone to offer the people of our time storylines that are at heart ‘good news.’”

Perhaps, since the question about balance is coming from Pope Francis – someone today’s media are said to greatly admire – the media will respond this time with honesty along with a few feel-good stories now and then. One can only hope. But at least the Holy Father is providing the media with some badly needed food for thought.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, Sirius Channel 130, and Channel 88.1FM KFHC, Sioux City and KOIA, Storm Lake.

 

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