Blogs > 37th Frame

Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Does bad news make us happy?

Among the many reader comments under the story about a former Pennbrook Middle School principal accused of inappropriate contact with a 13-year-old male student was this comment:
Although if this guy is found guilty, he deserves what he gets in jail, I can't help but think how happy the North Penn Reporter is that they have this story. The Reporter must make 90% of its online ad revenue based on stories about the NPSD.
This brings up a not-so-well kept secret of the news business - yes, we enjoy it when big news descends on our usually quiet suburban newsrooms. And between two major teacher strikes, a handful of high-profile crime stories and enough political bickering to put us in the 'Chicago' league, we had plenty of material for our web site and the recycled tree edition (note the sanitized cliche) to keep the hits coming.

I'd be lying if I told you that the adrenaline didn't run every time the police scanner pops to life or I hear a siren in the distance. There is a thrill in not only finding out what is going on but being the first to share that information. Family, friends and strangers have come to expect this from us - after all we're the newspaper and we're supposed to know what is happening whether it has to do with our area or not. That is who we are. If a journalist is not motivated by covering these things, he or she is in the wrong business.

So the next question is - and it is a fair one - do we enjoy bad news? Are we secretly hoping that the fire alarm turns out to be a building in flames, or the whispered political gossip turns out to be true?

The best answer I can give you is that like the rest of the planet, what motivates us to do what we do and how we react to the situations we are presented varies greatly from person to person. Some do like disaster, and thrive on the energy of the rescue. Others simply record the facts dutifully, getting satisfaction from their first narration of history. Some are analytical, some are motivated by a particular cause. We have outsiders, who don't quite fit into the neat categories that can be applied to their friends and neighbors. Others are pillars of the community, involved with many traditional activities.

And while bad news and scandal does bring in readers, web hits and revenue, I believe what really motivates journalists is someting more complicated.


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