Expert View: Media - Good or bad, news is what it is

I was vexed to hear charity chief executives and fellow communications directors ask a senior BBC executive why there isn't more good news on television.

I must have heard this question hundreds of times over the years, and I can't quite believe it is still being asked.

There is a constant debate to be had about the balance of news - between domestic and foreign, or one story and another - and that balance should, of course, be held up for wider scrutiny.

We should all challenge and consider developments in news generation, such as the preponderance of celebrity-based stories or the development of cliches about different issues or groups of people. And we should certainly be mindful of commercial interest and the influence this has on news coverage.

But that is not the same as saying there should be more good news. News simply is. It presents itself for possible coverage by virtue of fulfilling the basic criteria of news - that it is fresh, novel and fundamentally different from the norm. The reality is that most of the stories fulfilling these basic criteria can be described as 'bad'.

If murder, flood and war were normal, they would cease being reported on the news. In Third Sector terms, if corruption, embezzlement and dysfunction were the norm, a charity found to be guiltless of all such charges and just getting on with doing a good job would warrant news coverage. 'Good' news is news only if it is abnormal.

So when schoolchildren survived the Chinese earthquake, they made the news because their survival was abnormal in the prevailing situation. We don't tune in to the BBC to be told that it's 10pm and all is well. We want to know what's new in our world, and we accept that the information might be depressing.

Should coverage of some issues offer more depth, reflect more complexity and present a more realistic and rounded picture? Yes, absolutely - and that is where we, as a sector, should focus more of our collective voice.

Working with the media to secure better understanding of a complex situation, to highlight forgotten stories or to challenge the status quo on a particular issue could result in improved coverage. Failing to accept the basic premise of news won't. If you want to see more or better coverage, you have to make it work within the news paradigm - because, good or bad, if it's not news, it's not news.

 - Mirella von Lindenfels is founder of Communications Inc

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