Why does it seem that all news is bad news? As I scan through the headlines of national newspapers or watch cable and network news, I only seem to see news about violence, lost jobs, debt, war etc. Is there really only bad news or do the good stories not get reported?
Heaven forbid!!! I hope there is some good news out there. I will agree with you, the bad news gets reported. But think ---don't the students show up for a good fight but not show up for a concert? That is where America's interest is, and newspapers, being in the financial situation they are right now, need to sell papers. It seems to have been going on forever because King James I is attributed with saying, "No news is better than evil news", which is the forerunner of our "No news is better than bad news". Unfortunately it leaves a psychological mark on us all. I have given up watching the morning news because it starts my day off on such a down note.
Speaking personally, I notice that the local news here in Chicago tries very consciously to include positive stories such as "Someone you should know" segments or other more light-hearted topics. It isn't enough to balance out the negative things in the news, but it helps a little.
Having been a tv and radio journalist for several years, I can tell you that news focuses on the negative because that's what people want to watch, and the news shows live and die by their ratings. They have to give the people what they want to see...so people will watch...and so they can tell their advertisers (which is where they make their money) that they have a big audience.
Just an aside. Our motto in the newsroom was "If it bleeds, it leads!" I don't think you'll see a change in this philosophy any time soon...unless the public demands it.
The previous posts indicate that there is a sensationalist element present. Part of it is in the DNA of journalism. I am not sure there was not a period where there was not bad news present in the social fabric. Whether or not it was reported was another issue. Yet, in the age of total disclosure, 24 hours news networks and the realm of the immediate in the internet, there is a not only a reflection of things that are bad, but a constant repeating of it. Between these factors, I think that this becomes the reason why there is so much of "bad news." Yet, I think that like anything else, one has to make a conscious effort to find news that is redemptive. It is out there, like goodness and redemption is. Yet, one must seek it out. Perhaps, this becomes the test placed on all of us: To go out there and find news that is redemptive in a world where so much is not.
I agree with post #8 - who, after all can keep themselves from looking when they pass the scene of an accident? I think there's a bit of pretentiousness at play here as well - culturally the taste-makers tend to look down at happiness as somehow intellectually unworthy. Great literature cannot have a happy ending, a writer or actor producing comedic work is "not serious" about their profession, art and fashion can be disregarded if they are deemed "too pretty", and so on. I think that this attitude has slipped over into our news tastes as well - if it's good, if it's nice, it it makes you smile, then it can't be "serious news", and if you are interested in such stories then you are regarded as an intellectual lightweight.
I wonder to what degree this is all a function of shadenfreude. Do we all tend to like the bad news because we enjoy bad things happening to others, instead of to us? Or is it possible that we like the bad news because it reassures us that bad things happen to others, too, a kind of misery loves company feeling?
I'd read Lance Bennett's News: The Politics of Illusion on this subject. He would argue (in addition to some things that have already been mentioned) that it is because bad news is the kind of news that is more understandable to people. This is the sort of thing that can best be made into a story with a beginning, a middle, an end, and some conflict.
Media is not, nor has it ever been, a true reflection on our society's day to day events. They are for profit ventures, and what shocks and scares a reader/viewership gets better sales and ratings than what enchants and makes them smile. A good demonstration of this is news coverage of places like Africa or Asia in US newspapers and broadcasts.
To just look at those stories one would think the only thing that happens in Africa is AIDS, war, drought, famine and poverty. Hundreds are killed in a bombing, kids starve to death by the thousands in Somalia. It's as if nothing else happens in Africa at all, much less something good, valuable or interesting. It's silly that we accept this as a true representation, and a good wake up call to remind ourselves not to rely on the media too much for our information. They don't have our best interests at heart.
There is an interesting take on this idea in Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death," a book he wrote in 1985 but that is still very relevant today. The idea he proposes is that the 24 hour news cycle is an invention, there is no such thing as news so vital and important that it be discussed or understood every day. Because the TV news and other outlets need sensational things to fill the news cycle and they can't possibly discuss real issues in depth because most people's attention spans aren't long enough, they fill in the time with shocking things, often bad, because good news doesn't seem urgent.
Bad news sells. Let's face it, those who report the news know that we are more attracted to watch or read the negative than the inspirational. There are undoubtedly more positive things to report than negative, but they are not going to capture audience attention as much as the bad stuff. I'm continually disgusted at the "teaser" language for news stories; it is generally overdramatic and hyperbolic, which means it is also generally inaccurate. Society is more to blame than the news agencies, I'm afraid, because they want to give us what we want. If leading with soft news worked, they would do it. I agree with you, but shame on us for buying in to the negativity.
The basic problem is the definition of "news" as being something out of the ordinary or unusual. The fact that most airplanes take off, fly to their destination, and land safely is the normal event and is not therefore reported. When an airplane crashes, that is news because it is not the way things usually happen.
This principle can be applied to any of the concerns you listed. Because these events are unexpected or causing changes in the status quo, they are "news" and are reported as such.