Shoptalk: Only Bad News? Please Look Again
"Why do newspapers always print only bad news?" I've heard that question in -various forms throughout my long and checkered career, and I found myself -puzzling over it yet again last Friday.
I was perusing the -comments on our website, thepilot.com. You never can tell which small items will touch off a storm of reaction. In this case, a lengthy chain of comments came in response to a letter finding sinister significance in the supposed fact that the -politically correct news media were paying less attention to the flooding in Nashville than they did to the flooding in New Orleans.
What grabbed my attention were a couple of particularly eloquent and impassioned complaints from one of the anonymous commenters.
"You know," he or she wrote, "every time I read these, I get more and more upset, not just with the way everyone is toward each other, but the media as well. All we ever hear is about bad things. How about let's talk about something good? How about the paper at least run an article once a month on something someone did that was good for a change?
"The petty stuff that goes back and forth - is it worth it at the end of the day? Does it really make you feel better? But it sure would be nice to open up the paper and see a moving story of an average 'Joe' who did something out of the kindness of his/her heart for a stranger. But instead, it's always depressing, negative stuff. ... Read any paper. Is there a good-hearted story on the front page, or a good-hearted story making headlines? Nope."
My heart goes out to the writer. I know how he/she (I sense it must be a she) feels. We're all in the process of tearing this wonderful country of ours into polarized pieces, and we have to stop. And I'm trying not to be defensive. But I do have to point out a blatant irony here.
Last Friday, after reading those comments, I picked up a copy of that day's edition of The Pilot, hot off the press, and glanced at the front page. The centerpiece story, accompanied by three nice photos by our Hannah Sharpe, was headlined, "The Fonz Pays a Visit." Reporter John Krahnert recounted an inspiring talk actor Henry Winkler gave at Aberdeen Elementary School, telling about his childhood experience with dyslexia, urging students to believe they have "greatness inside you" and promising them that they can also overcome whatever challenges face them.
This is bad news? This is "depressing, negative stuff"? This is ignoring it when someone does something out of the kindness of his heart?
Or what about Florence Gilkeson's story beside it on that same front page, headlined, "Ministry for Homeless Marks 10th Anniversary"?
The lead story that day told about local educators speaking out against cuts in school budgets. That involves controversy, but is it bad news? Or is it about people fighting for something good? There were two other articles on that page. The first reported that the village of Pinehurst had decided to allow golf carts on municipal streets. The second told about a family that, having been burned out earlier, rebuilt their home with a sprinkler system. Do those qualify as bad news?
The lead story on the Extra section was about an Andy Griffith museum. The lead column on the Opinion front was a loving tribute to the late singer Lena Horne. Bad news?
Maybe it's not fair to dwell on Friday's paper, since that day's commenters probably hadn't seen it yet. But what about the previous Wednesday? There was another story about concern over school cuts and one about the effort to move the Pinelake defendant's murder trial. But the dominant photos were of a memorial motorcycle ride to honor slain law-enforcement officers. And the remaining front-page articles told about a vote to keep the Pinehurst tax rate the same; a police dog training seminar; and a local girl, Blake Schrein, of Vass, who did well in a New York theater competition. Bad news?
The previous Sunday's paper - never mind. Select any edition at random.
I'm not picking on a particular commenter here. We in this business hear this kind of thing all the time. It's so easy to tar everyone with the "media" brush. I share the concern about the negativity and conflict that spoil so much of our public discourse. But no good news on our front pages? Nothing about "someone doing something that was good for a change"?
Come on. Have you read the actual paper lately?
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2470 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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