Raise your hand if you’ve ever said something like this:
‘Journalists only ever cover negative stories.’
‘Journalists aren’t interested in our good news stories. I don’t know why I bother.’
‘Journalists are only interested in reporting on bad stuff that’s happening in the world.’
If you’re reading this blog post, I’d put money on the fact, you’ve thought this – or said it out loud – at least once in the last few months.
I can understand why; look at the homepage of any newspaper right now and you’ll probably find the majority of stories are negative. But is it because journalists only want to report bad news? Or is it because that’s what most people want to read, watch or listen to – even if they won’t necessarily admit it? Most of the research on the topic points to the latter.
There are various theories as to why. Some experts argue that our brain is far more sensitive to bad news than good. Others, like the researchers in this study believe it is down to ‘negativity bias’ – the term psychologists use to describe our collective hunger for bad news. Because we’ve evolved to react quickly to potential threats, bad news could be a signal that we need to change what we’re doing to avoid danger – which is why we notice it more than positive stories.
But if your job is to get press coverage for your business, client or organisation the reasons don’t really matter. No amount of whingeing about journalists only being interested in negative stories or ignoring your good news is going to change the way the media operates. So the more you understand about how it works – and how you can turn that to your advantage – the better chance you’ll have of success.
Change your mindset
The first thing you need to do is change your mindset. If you’re telling yourself that journalists are only interested in covering negative stories (or not challenging colleagues who say it) you could be sabotaging your chances of success.
Personally, I don’t think journalists necessarily favour bad news. For me it’s more about exposing things that are ‘broken’ or aren’t as they should be.
When I reflect on some of the stories I’ve written for the Guardian in recent years, more often than not they’re about things that are broken. One of the stories I’m most proud of is this one about children being held in immigration detention centres because I know – that along with other media coverage on the topic – it had a part to play (albeit small) in putting an end to the practice.
Others have highlighted changes in government policy or funding that could have serious (and in some cases devastating) consequences on peoples’ lives. Is that about reporting negativity for negativity’s sake? Or is it about exposing and challenging things that aren’t as they should be in the hope of influencing change?
I’ll let you decide.
So how can this help you?
You may be thinking ‘but we don’t want to expose things that are broken; we want journalists to write about how brilliant we are.’ Of course you do. But the harsh reality is, journalists don’t care about you. And it isn’t their job to promote your business, client or organisation. They just want great stories that will engage their audience – and often that is about highlighting things that are broken.
And here’s the thing…that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Highlighting things that are ‘broken’ can be an opportunity to show how your business, client or organisation is ahead of the game: solving peoples’ problems, influencing change or working for the greater good in some way.
For example, in this story I wrote for the Guardian about changes to funding for specialist colleges and how it was threatening their future existence, National Star College (which initially approached me with the story) comes across as a pro-active organisation that really cares about its students. In no way has it been damaged by exposing something that is broken (in this case, the funding arrangements for specialist colleges). If anything its reputation has been enhanced by getting behind a campaign on such an important issue.
And this story about Sheffield University running a clearing campaign in the run up to last year’s A level results (something top-ranking institutions have traditionally not had to do) didn’t cast the university in a negative light. Rather it showed a forward-thinking organisation responding to external changes (new university admissions rules) that could otherwise have left them short of and students – and, crucially, cash.
So don’t make the mistake of thinking ‘bad news’ stories are a no-go area. Handled in the right way, they can actually generate positive press coverage that shows your business, client or organisation in a positive light.