Bad News

People love bad news.

In a previous job at another newspaper, one of our walls was decorated entirely with the last few weeks of newspapers, with post-it notes prominently declaring exactly how many copies of each paper had been sold (apart from those sent out to subscribers) the day it came out.

Any time a crime, disaster or accident made the front page, the numbers went up.

The other reporter, who had already developed a crispy shell of journalistic cynicism, told me: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Because people love bad news.

But I hate bad news. I don’t like having to call the hospital because a little girl on a bike got hit by a car. I don’t like having to call the Minnesota State Patrol because some poor man was killed in a car accident. I don’t like having to think about how a tornado could devastate a farm, hovering up thousands of dollars and spitting out worthless wreckage.

Once, after visiting with a single mother with terminal brain cancer for an hour, I drove back to my home, sniffling the whole way.

Her house had just burned down.

I hate bad news.

But there’s one thing I’ve noticed that people love far, far more than bad news.

Once, on a very slow news day, I was desperate enough to interview a man who had picked up a stray kitten in an area of town frequented by large, fast-moving trucks.

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the kitten would have ended up a vaguely cat-shaped pancake if the man hadn’t res-cued it. And after talking to him, it was very obvious that he was already very attached to the kitten.

It was literally a warm, fuzzy story.

There was almost nothing to it, though. It was one of the shorter stories I had ever written, clocking in at less than 12 inches, I think, and I remember being a little embarrassed that the kitten story was my offering to readers that day.

I shouldn’t have worried.

People loved that story. I got more positive feedback on the kitten story than on anything I’d ever written before, and I’m fairly sure I haven’t gotten that much feedback on anything I’ve written since.

People may love bad news, but they love tragedy averted and happy endings more.

One thought on “Bad News

  1. People don’t love bad news for the sake of bad news. They’re just drawn to news that affects them emotionally. We don’t get pleasure from reading about someone who lost their home to a fire or a kid getting hit by a car — we just want to know about them because we care about other people. The popularity of bad news actually reveals something good about most people — that they care about others’ problems and suffering.

    If only I could count the number of times I have taken phone calls from people who read a sad or tragic story and wanted to know if there was some way they could help. It doesn’t happen every time, but it isn’t rare, either.

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