National good news day, Robert Zoon,

For at Least One Day, Netherlands Newspapers Report Mostly Good News

November 11, 2008 11:58 AM
by Shannon Firth
While the Netherlands pushes for more “good news” in its newspapers, skeptics argue that bad news is what sells newspapers.

National Good News Day

Nov. 7 was “National Good News Day” in the Netherlands, a day celebrated by 12 media organizations. Each one reserved a portion of its publication for positive news.

The concept originated with journalist Robert Zoon, who writes for Having surveyed various Dutch presses, Zoon found that de Volksrant, at 9.3 percent, had the least good news while the free paper Dag, which recently stopped publishing, had 24.3 percent.

Reader reaction to all the good news was mixed, at best. Huub Wijfje told Spits, a free commuter newspaper, “A newspaper with only good news is unreadable. The world isn’t always positive. People expect to see a reflection of what’s new to them.”

Andy Sennit, who wrote about the day of observance for Radio Netherlands’ Web site, said his organization did not observe Good News Day “because our worldwide audience expects us to cover the world as it really is.” Still, Sennit provided readers with a smattering of good news anyway, chronicling the release of a journalist and a blogger in the Congo and Malaysia, respectively, and the story of a tiger who escaped a zoo in Mexico but did not hurt anybody.

Steve Salerno, who has written for The New York Times, Harper's and The Wall Street Journal, discusses “the intellectual barrenness” of the news in an article on the eSkeptic Web site: “In its classic conception, newsworthiness is built on a foundation of anomaly: man-bites-dog.… It means that, by definition, journalism in its most basic form deals with what life is not.” Salerno goes on to explain that the risks of gastric bypass surgery, Mad Cow disease and children being molested by strangers are greatly exaggerated by the media. According to Salerno, strangers are the perpetrators of pedophilia only 5 percent of the time, Mad Cow disease has killed only two Americans, and the survival rate for gastric bypass is 99.5 percent.

In March 2006, NPR reported that President George W. Bush had condemned the news media for focusing too heavily on the bad news coming from Iraq. Master Sergeant Louis Rodriguez, who lives in Clarkesville, Tenn., lost his leg in Iraq but looks back positively on his time there. Rodriguez says he remembers driving up to a field with soccer balls in the back of his truck and stopping for a game: “We were playing soccer with the kids, that the day before were throwing rocks at the U.S. troops. None of that stuff got reported.”
Paul McCleary of the Columbia Journalism Review’s online edition explained that sometimes good news in Iraq isn’t reported for security reasons: “They open a new school and then reporters show up and it creates a big stir and then the insurgents hit the school.”

However, Michael O’Hanlon a senior fellow Brookings Institution, argued: “The real problem with Iraq right now is that things are not good in Iraq.”

The fact is that bad news sells. Guardian writer Roy Greenslade cites a Pew Research center survey examining 20 years of American readers’ news choices. Greenslade writes that, over the two-decade span, readers’ preferences have changed very little: “In short, they are war, weather, disaster, money and crime.” He notes with some skepticism that “celebrity scandals” were rated last by respondents. As to the resurgence of the public’s interest in the news in the last decade, Greenslade attributes the shift to the current climate of fear. Therefore, he posits that the plea to print “good news” is “largely a waste of time.”

Related Topic: Brains love bad news

In 2003, John T. Cacioppo, Ph.D., explored our brains’ reaction to images that were positive, negative or neutral, and found that the brain shows the greatest surge in electrical activity when attending to bad news. In other words, the human brain has a “negativity bias,” so bad news carries more weight than good news. Hara Estroff Marano, a writer for Psychology Today, explained the evolutionary purpose of this bias was meant “to keep us out of harm’s way.”

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