There is good news and bad news. The good news is that there is more
good news than you think. The bad news is that bad news is still more
likely to dominate the news agenda.
The London Evening Standard has bravely come out and said what many PR
folk - who are chiefly in the business of promoting good news - have
long suspected. That the ‘unremitting diet of bad news’ served up by the
media gives a misleading impression of reality, and that, while not
inaccurate, ‘individual news stories become divorced from proper
perspective or context’.
The last person to bang the good news drum was newscaster Martyn Lewis,
of ‘Cats in the news’ fame, who first expounded his theory in an article
for PR Week.
He was ridiculed for his views by more ‘serious’ colleagues. But in fact
he never argued for the inclusion of ‘no car crashes today, budgie
rescued’ type stories as major news items. Instead he argued that good
news should not be shoved to the bottom of the agenda just because it is
The old journalistic adage is that news is what someone doesn’t want you
to print, is still true. And there is no question that the reading and
viewing public has an appetite for others’ misfortune. But it only tells
half the story. News - whether good or bad - can also be what someone
else does want you to print. It is up to the journalist to decide where
the truth and the interest lies.
But the savaging of Lewis revealed the depth of the macho conviction
among ‘serious’ journalists that bad news is necessarily better,
journalistically speaking, than good news. Good news does not win
Pulitzer prizes or BAFTA awards, bad news does. And woe betide any media
person that lets the side down by saying otherwise.
The Standard’s leader declared that ‘there is good news out there, and
the media shouldn’t be afraid to report it.’ Hollow words? It would be
nice to think that a new era of enlightened reporting will result. On
the other hand, it’s about as likely as seeing News Bunny stand in for
Paxman on Newsnight.
PR will continue to push good news stories, and quite properly the
media will continue to seek out the bad news. The public interest is
best served by a professionally conducted adversarial relationship
between PR and journalism, with neither side supine in response to brow-
beating from the other. But good PR people should at least be able to
put the bad news about their clients in context. And good journalists
should be able to see the validity of reporting it that way.