Alex Hilton: 'Bad news' media feed on negativity

Chris Grayling's crime hyperbole shows that negativity remains at the heart of Britain's politics. But do politicians have a choice when journalists lap up bad news?

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

I admit it, I had a little fun this week. I cobbled together a spoof website for the Mayor of Baltimore and faked a statement berating Grayling for his comparison of parts of Britain to The Wire’s portrayal of Baltimore.

This spoof site wasn’t meant to deceive – just to amuse – but it quickly became an illustration of the power of political PR as it hit Twitter, the blogs, the Baltimore press and then the UK media.

Despite being drenched in clues as to its insincerity, bloggers and journalists saw what they wanted to see rather than what was before their eyes: a story about politicians bashing each other. This simply would not have been reported if it were a story about politicians being nice to each other or about crime going down.

The media thrive on friction. Every time I do a radio or television debate, I’m encouraged to be gladiatorial with my Tory opponent; I’m never asked to be nice.

So yes, when Conservatives attack the NHS,

Labour will rightly push this to the media. When the Conservatives do anything that gives Labour a media hook, it should use it. Because how much coverage do government press officers achieve for all their work promoting examples of what government does well?

The Conservatives understand this and have carefully crafted their ‘Broken Britain’ narrative to tap into journalists’ hunger for woe. And Labour attacks this narrative as a belittling of Britain itself, again because countering with good news wouldn’t make the pages or the air time. There seems to be no escape from this cycle, which may have well been written in stone.

While my trivial diversion may have reminded some bloggers and journalists to be a little more cautious in their rush to get to the story, I don’t think editors and proprietors will start printing more good news any time soon as a response.
No news might be good news, but it seems that good news isn’t news at all.

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