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.