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Negative Versus Positive Media Reporting


(Copyrighted 2007 by Don M. Tow)


“Cops:  Driver tried to run 2 of us over,”  “Woman’s death may be homicide,” and “Cops bust drug ring, arrest 21” are the top right headline articles on the front page of the main section of the Asbury Park Press for the three days of September 20, 21, and 22, 2007.[1]  It seems that whenever there is a murder, drug bust, robbery, corruption, rape, drunk driving, etc., an article about that event will make the front pages or main sections of newspapers.

The reporting of negative events is not just limited to the top right part of the front page.  If one looks at other parts of the front page or the inside pages of the main section, one will find more articles about negative events.  For example, the main section of the September 22, 2007 Asbury Park Press had the following articles: 

·        “Autopsy:  Mother, 23, strangled”

·        “Trooper charged in fatal collision”

·        “Boy, 10, admits setting fatal fire”

·        “N.J. Marine charged with vehicular homicide”

·        “Two teens arrested in bomb threat case”

·        “Police:  Man tried to molest girl in home”

·        “McGreevey must double support payment”

·        “Police:  Serial rapist is targeting Latinas”

·        “Group sold immigrants memberships to bogus Indian tribe”

·        “2 students shot; university leaps into action”

·        “Hearing for Newark shooting suspect delayed”

·        “Police arrest MIT student at Boston Airport

·        “Bail denied in racially charged case”

·        “Miracle-Gro, smaller company settle lawsuit”

·        “Last suspect in Simpson arrested”

·        “Ramones drummer sues for royalties”

·        “George Clooney injured in crash of motorcycle, car in N. Bergen.”   

There were 18 negative articles in the 12-page main section of the September 22, 2007 Asbury Park Press, or on the average 1.5 negative articles per page.  If we do not include the Editorial/Opinion page and the two Obituaries pages, then there were 18 negative articles in nine pages of news, or on the average two negative articles per page of news. 

On the other hand, there was not a single article reporting a positive act or contribution to society by an individual or group.  There were a few articles that are news-worthy that could provide beneficial information to the readers, such as

·        “Report faults N.J. emergency medical services”

·        “Fire safety advocates say apartments need sprinklers”

·        “Vaccine for AIDS fails in testing, Merck reports”

·        “Oyster Creek emergency drill met with high marks, skepticism.”

But such articles do not fall in the category of positive articles that report on a positive act or contribution to society by an individual or group.  I am sure that in central New Jersey, the main geographical region served by the Asbury Park Press, there must be many positive acts by individuals or groups, e.g., people who volunteer their time, money, and services on various tutoring, food banks, Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters, hospitals, first aide squads, fire departments, Special Olympics, and many other volunteer programs.  Why wasn’t there a single article reporting on such positive acts?

Although the above statistics of the September 22, 2007 issue of the Asbury Park Press may not be representative of Asbury Park Press or newspapers in general, the conclusion about the overwhelming predominance of negative articles over positive articles is a legitimate conclusion.

The overwhelming emphasis on negative reporting is found not only in newspapers, but also in news reporting from radio and television stations.  Since the Internet news mirror the traditional media’s news, such emphasis on negative reporting is also true in the Internet domain.  Why?  A common response is that the news media is providing coverage on events that are of interest to their audience.  In a free enterprise society, in order for a media company to survive from a financial perspective, it must provide articles that its audience would be interested in reading or hearing.  I agree with these premises.  However, I do not agree that the audience is interested in only negative articles, and not also positive articles.  I do not agree that there should be such large disparity in coverage, with 18 negative articles and not a single positive article.

We know from sociology and child psychology that positive role models can do wonders to young minds and negative role models can destroy young lives.  It is really puzzling to me that the public and their elected officials do not put more demand and pressure on the media establishment to provide a more balanced reporting of positive and negative events.  I truly believe that if there is such a paradigm shift, our society and the world would be a significantly better place to live.

[1] These dates were chosen randomly around the time I first wrote this article.




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