In what turned out to be a rather disheartening social experiment, the Russian news site City Reporter only reported good news to its readers for an entire day.
The site brought positive news stories to the front of its pages and found any and all silver linings in negative stories (“No disruption on the roads despite snow,” for example). The result was a smorgasbord of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows—that absolutely no one wanted to read. The City Reporter lost two-thirds of its normal readership that day, according to a post by one of the editors on Facebook.
For anyone familiar with the old newsroom adage “If it bleeds, it leads,” this shouldn’t be too shocking. But the City Reporter’s experiment is an indication that our fascination with negativity may be even more pervasive than we thought.
There is no shortage of psychology studies explaining why we love to read and watch bad news. Our brains make us do it. Negative events are more memorable and emotionally impactful than good ones. And the media only give the people what they want. (Of course, this isn’t necessarily true in social-media land, where happy news and cute kittens can electrify millions on Facebook and throughout the Twittersphere.)
The optimist might argue that media outlets skew negative because the bad news is the important news, and spreading it can affect positive change. Reporting on natural disasters, for example, can prompt action on environmental issues. Writing about centuries of institutionalized racism, corrupt government officials, and ineffective social policy can—maybe, hopefully—bring about incremental positive change. It’s not about ratings or page views, those optimists would argue, it’s about making the world a better place.
On the other hand, not every news organization is basing its news decisions on altruism. And too much bad news can leave people feeling hopeless and apathetic, thus having the opposite effect.
No matter what the motivation of news organizations, one fact remains the same: People just aren’t that interested in good news.