Good News? Good Grief. Get a Grip!

I have just about had my fill of complaints about contemporary news coverage… what “the media” isn’t covering, should cover, how it slants and skews politics, and its multitude of sins – real and imagined – by everyone who wants to be critical – and none of whom is willing to do much more than complain bitterly, loudly, and usually without specifics to back up their argument or assertion.

“If you want good news look in the sports pages!” That’s an old saw uttered by news men and women defending their craft against an audience whose justification for not reading, listening or watching coverage of the events of their era is their claim that news is so depressing.

Depressing?  Tough.  Sorry… but tough.  I’d say – honest.  I’d say realistic. 
I’d suggest news is the first draft of history; that these are troubling times, news should portray the times we live in and not a Varnish or Pollyanna view like a rotogravure. 
News is based on the currency that you need to know, understand and ingest significant events, thoughtful evaluations and interpretations in opinion columns, and have a contextual, deep understanding of news makers in a complex world in order to make intelligent decisions and navigate the shoals of life.

News isn’t supposed to be happy, or filled with feel-good-isms.   News isn’t an alternative for a list of firsts compiled by Guinness Book of Records on the bar.  It isn’t about bromides or pontificating  politicians; it shouldn’t be point-counterpoint reduced to platitudes and silliness as if an argument over the Bickerson’s breakfast table.

These are serious times demanding serious and sober coverage that reflects the spectrum of argument and focusing on decision points. News should be presented in many voices and through a prism reflecting and refracting the many points of light representing all angles, sharp points and all colors.

Witness the emergence and growth of good news.  It is pervasive.  On television news shows happy stories which were once relegated to the close of the program and were called kickers, aimed at leaving the audience with a smile on their face, now vie for more prominent placement in the middle of nightly shows.  The producers have been urged by consultants to fill the programs with features and enterprises that are not so serious, that will not be so depressing that audiences will change the dial in order to find more entertaining fare elsewhere.

There is a parody of good news for a version of The New York Times. There is even an amusing video showing audience reaction. Alternative news sites featuring only good news can be found at the Good News Network as well as Good News Daily.

Is this attributable to the growth of McPress? The USATodays and other entertainment shows which seem to hold such audience sway? Is it about the loss of editors as Gene Weingarten recently wrote in the Washington Press and I commented about here?

People will tell surveys that they long for serious news and would read or watch that if it was available. I think that’s how they want to be heard by the pollster but is not reflected in their reality. The graduate students I teach barely scratch the surface of the new papers they see, sites they scan, or programs they tune to. I recently asked a large group of professional communicators who work for a public consortium in California how many papers they read — 3 hands went up. How many read more than a single news site – 2 more hands. The CEO later confided that the lack of news knowledge and savvy among the organization was more than a little troubling.

Is this the result of years of neglect for issues such as civics, or history?  Is finding news via search a balm for actually reading more thoroughly – is what we think we need to know sufficient for what we really ought to know?

News isn’t supposed to be easy.  It can, should and does celebrate accomplishment and personal bests.  But it must also include the dark underside of the world we live in – for only when that is exposed can there be any real hope for change.  For those who find it sufficient not to read or watch, or to seek out saccharin sites with only good things they are living like ostriches.

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Author: Peter Shaplen Productions

More than four decades of experience as a journalist, producer, reporter, writer and professor of news, corporate production, crisis management.

One thought on “Good News? Good Grief. Get a Grip!”

  1. This analysis is interesting, although, I fear, it makes the same mistake the Democrats made in 2000. The thinking was typified by the book “What’s Wrong With Kansas?” There might, today, be little appetite for Network news shows and newspapers. This is not because people don’t want news and information. Just the opposite. It’s expensive to do really good reporting. Budgets have shrunk along with the type of reportage that separated Nightly News from Fox. It’s not the viewer’s fault if they can’t tell them apart. When everybody puts on yapping heads and declares “we’ll have to leave it there” after filling the time between commercials, they all look the same: silly and irrelevant.

    There are serious and demanding stories out there. They deserve the full spectrum of facts; not the full spectrum of arguments, many of which are unsupported. This is the mistake, in my opinion, news organizations are making. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if any network news organization fact checked everything their guests said… even for a single show? That would be worth watching.

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