The good and the bad of news consumption

Model shows people get more value from bad news

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The good and the bad of news consumption

By William Love

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“Newspapers act on this demand by reporting more bad news to attract readers and sell more papers.” — Jill McCluskey, Washington State University”

I came across two stories on Twitter about news consumption that turned into a great media literacy icebreaker in my journalism classes.

First, the “bad news” about news consumption. Washington State University professor Jill McCluskey worked with European colleagues on a model that shows how news consumers can get more value from bad news. You can read all of the details here, but the researchers model finds that we have the tendency to avoid risk.

According to the WSU press release, McCluskey said people “gain a greater advantage from reading bad news than good news.”

Now, the “good” news.

An NPR story by David Folkenflik highlights an initiative by The Huffington Post called “What’s Working.” The Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington is betting some big money that people want to see more positive news. She makes an interesting point that news consumers only see half the story — the problem — in the current model.

“We talk a lot about copycat crimes,” Huffington says in the article. “How about if we actually put the spotlight on solutions, and what is working, and generate ‘copycat solutions’?”

Both are interesting takes that my journalism students enjoyed discussing. I used the two articles as a 15-minute warm-up discussion that started with the class listening to Folkenflik’s piece and writing a response to the following questions. (Just like the ISATs!)

Does the media focus too much on the bad and not enough on the good? What are some examples you have seen to your point?

A little into the responses — most believe the media focuses on the bad — I asked the students why media outlets would do this. That is when I go over McCluskey’s model and the economics of the media industry. Finally, I asked the students questions that Huffington might appreciate: What does this mean for our high school publications and what are some potential solutions?

FAVORITED is a column about journalism teaching tools and resources found on social media. If you would like to contribute to this column, contact William Love and [email protected]