Friday 9 December 2016

If It Bleeds It Leads

“If it bleeds, it leads”.

It’s a great quote which the Executive Director of News at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation reminded me of in a presentation I saw recently.

He reckons it’s wrong though.  He’s not saying bulletins have to be jolly -  because that’s a familiar argument and I'm not sure there's much evidence of 'good news bulletins' catching on even when tried.  It’s more about how to make news constructive - exploring potential solutions as much as the problems.

I reckon he’s right.

I recall one story from the BBC’s Ten O Clock TV bulletin yesterday. A happiness survey suggested that more old folk are feeling lonely. But instead of labouring the dull detail of the stats with some posh expert in twinset and pearls, we heard, instead, of a truly great project where 80+ year old women had built their own complex where they could live, mix and support each other. They’d designed it, fought for it, delivered it and moved in.  As I sat watching, I imagined these determined intelligent women watching themselves back on TV and toasting their achievements. Rock on.

We know that a lot of news is unavoidably depressing; and there’s little we can do about that.  But if we always look for the negative in stories where there is equally a positive, always the problems but never any solutions, then the World will seem like a pretty depressing place. 

Is 'fear-based' journalism a lazy solution? For every survey-led story about X% thinking Y, those stats may well also suggest a larger proportion of folk think the more palatable opposite.

After forty years of coverage suggesting that the EC is a pretty messed up project, should we really be surprised that the nation chose to vote out?

I observe the BBC appears to be attaching some welcome importance to this thinking and, in its own wisely careful way, is just planting a few alternate thoughts in its news treatments.

Ulric Haagerup explores the theory in his book 'Constructive News' and the themes are being echoed around the World.

I’ve been doing a little work back at the coal face of late, and was faced with handling an interview about a local project which had not been quite as successful as was envisaged.  Whilst the ‘challenge’ and ‘hold to account’ mantra certainly has its place in a newsroom, there was a bit of me that wanted to say ‘It would be great for our City if you could get things sorted – and good luck’. I sort of did. What is a local radio station really about?

Challenging is all very well, but as broadcasters, do we not also have a similar responsibility to allow the time for explanation - and constructive examples where they exist.  Whether you’re for it or against it, have we heard as many real stories about the positive examples of fracking around the world as we have the negative ones, as we face having operations in our back yards? How can we really start to evaluate the matter sensibly?

The fresh thinking has to be welcomed. What is our real duty as a broadcaster? Why do we do the news?  Does it have to be done the way it always has been?

The political world now, with unprecedented levels of media, supplemented by ill-informed social media, is starting to show the signs of desperation.  When we hear each day, each hour, how all things are flawed, with little hope of success, then we are bound to vote for change. Not really stopping to consider what change might bring.

Does misery bring audiences? Yes, people want to be kept 'up to date' - but I'm aware that some talk newsrooms worry that a never-ending diet of concern and disaster is driving audiences away.

Social media is worryingly miserable. One of my hobbies is to thumb through tweets from someone who has been unduly accusative on some topic or other and find they are just as annoyed by just about everything else in their life. 

With those as a backdrop, as responsible broadcasters, maybe it is time for us to be less professionally miserable. More constructive in our story treatments.

Related post: The future of the radio news bulletin

My book 'How to Make Great Radio' is out now from Biteback.

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