Too much bad news?

A lot of bad news is reported. A lot of bad things happen. But does too much emphasis by media on bad news paint to pessimistic a picture?

RNZ Mediawatch – Publishing the positives: CoJo

Bad news is often important news. If that makes the news a bit of a bummer, well – too bad.

But is there another way to report it that’s a bit less depressing – and a bit more uplifting or engaging?

“I’ve only ever been a bad news reporter,” Stuff’s Nicola Brennan-Tupara told Mediawatch. 

That’s not an an admission that the chief news director for Stuff’s Waikato communities is sub-standard, but that bad news is usually what she’s reporting.

“I’ve covered crime. I’ve covered the courts. As a journalist it does impact you,” she said.

For Stuff’s confronting child abuse investigation Faces Of Innocents she even reported her own experience of domestic violence at home as a child.

“There are also really good programmes to curb domestic violence, in New Zealand and things we can look at worldwide that are having a great impact. Why can’t we report on that stuff as well?” she asked.

I guess that comes down to what editors or media bosses ask their staff to report on.

Bad news does need to be reported on, sanitised news misrepresents reality. Suppression of reporting of suicides did nothing to limit suicide rates – on the contrary, they have increased alarmingly.

She went to Europe to look at Constructive Journalism – CoJo for short.

She was intrigued by a poetic video called Publish the Positive by Jodie Jackson who has a Master’s Degree in Applied Positive Psychology and is a partner at the international Constructive Journalism Project.

That upbeat composition is nice – and the pictures of of Ghandi, the moon landings and windmills that go with it are stirring and soothing. But but isn’t it naive to believe reporting the news positively can really tell us what we need to know about what’s happening in the world?.

The philosophy of Constructive Journalism’ has been put into practice in Denmark.

Ulrik Haagerup – a former director of news at the DR – The Danish Broadcasting Corporation – founded the Constructive Institute there after he realised he was making millions miserable in Denmark with his nightly TV bulletins.

Haagerup said that journalism had lost sight of its original role – presenting a balanced view of how things are. Public broadcasters in particular should be “a filter between reality and people’s perception of reality,” he said.

“We think news is about conflict, news is about drama, news is about crooks – and we think news is about victims,” he said.

“We wrap all of this up in a programme or in a newspaper, and we call it journalism. But is it actually the right picture of the world? The truth is, it is not. And we need to change that,” he said.

Though fewer people were dying in wars these days than ever before, Haagerup said, and security for all in Europe had increased, the media was concentrating on the negative.

Wars are fewer and smaller, and casualties are less than last century by a long shot (so far at least), but we get more coverage and more graphic coverage.

The same for storms and weather events. And natural disasters  – last century I had only heard of tsunamis, but I have now seen the real effects on aa graphic scale in a number of places.

Stuff’s Nicola Brennan-Tupara has just returned from Denmark and told her Stuff colleagues all about it in a special nationwide video-conference last week.

“It’s not about reporting positive or happy news for entertainment or to make people feel better – which is what a lot of people think it is,” she told Mediawatch.

“It’s about giving a better version of what’s actually happening in our society. Journalists often forget the effect they have on people’s thinking,” she said.

“I know many people who don’t watch the news … because it brings them down,” she told Mediawatch. 

“If you work in the industry and you feel like that, what must the public be thinking?” she asked.

“The medicinal cannabis issue at the moment would be a good one for a constructive approach. In the two different Bills there are things they agree on,” she said.

“If the media stopped giving headlines to disagreements, we might move things on a bit quicker,” she told Mediawatch.

Conflict versus cooperation – negative news tends to dominate headlines.

But if media adopt a more positive approach, it will be vulnerable to spin. PR and comms people all over the country will be queuing up to feed the media their positive stories about the achievements and good work of the people and the programmes.

They do that now – and media are criticised for repeating them too much already.

“I’m sure they would try to hijack Constructive Journalism  – but it urges us to be just as critical of proposed solutions to the issues. You can deal with a PR approach as you would deal with any other approach from them,” she said.

The media can and should do better, but finding the right balance and protecting their business will be an ongoing challenge.






  1. Duker

     /  January 6, 2019

    News is still sold as ‘sizzle’ rather than as meat.

    • PartisanZ

       /  January 7, 2019

      Very good! … And BBQ rather than restaurant meal …?

  2. Gezza

     /  January 6, 2019

    Reporters report the sensational. They have been schooled to present themselves as stars and celebrities in their own right, emulating the yanks. The fluffy, soft side “good news” is well-covered by Miriama Kamo and tv1’s Good Sorts on tv1.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  January 6, 2019

      It’s been like that ever since there have been newspapers. Look at those in previous centuries; I mean 18th and 19th and the broadsheets of time past.

  3. kluelis

     /  January 6, 2019

    News media in NZ has always been sold to adult European as that has always been the most financial viable business model. So an adult European world view has always been dominant in NZ. With people prefferring a good v bad, us v them a right v wrong narrative So NZ news media has always published European as the “us” , the “good” and the “right”. Every one else has been portrayed as the “them” the “bad” and the “wrong”. Great for European torture for every one else. Not surprisingly I stopped watching TV one 6 oclock news in 1975.The phrase I grew to hate was people saying “I always watch the 6 oclock TV news” Commercial radio and in particular talk back radio is just as bad. News papers were the least punishing and often had in depth and reasonably balanced articles. The only refuge I found was National radio morning report…not commercially dependent meant they were not chained to the “tell the majority what they want to hear” mantra which under pins all commercial businesses.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  January 6, 2019

      You spent years listening to Moaning Report (or as Paul Holmes termed it, “An inhouse bulletin for the Beehive”). No wonder it is taking you a while to recover.

      • acrossthespectrum

         /  January 6, 2019

        Paul Holmes was a decent guy but had no knowledge of anything at all. Simply a puppet of ZB propaganda and TV propaganda. He was obsessed about ratings. “Moaning” report? No actually the only informed and balanced news media in NZ. The rest are pure slaves to their target audiences telling them what they want to hear for fear of losing market share. Paul Holmes programmes were always whinging whining and railing against something or someone digging up and burying the same demons day after day for their zombie audiences.

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  January 6, 2019

          Nonsense. Holmes was no-one’s puppet. Moaning Report was incesant grizzles from Wellington unions, activists and lobbyists all focussed on the Government. Holmes was based in Auckland and had much wider vision.

          • Gezza

             /  January 6, 2019

            Holmes was a self-obsessed all over the place egotistical hypocritical gibberer. And those were his good points.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  January 6, 2019

              No, he was a far better interviewer than most. There are reasons why his programmes ran for so long with high ratings.

            • Gezza

               /  January 7, 2019

              Yes. It was based in Auckland and they like dickheads on telly up there.

  4. PartisanZ

     /  January 7, 2019

    It seems we love to fear …