Newspapers: A differing view

"All you ever print is bad news."

"Why don't you run some positive stories sometime?"

"You never read anything good about kids. It's all gangs and drugs."

Throughout my career, I've been constantly harangued by the misconception that the newspaper focuses on the bad and shuns the good.

Many of these complaints come shortly after a family member or friend is found among the DUI listings. It seems for some people all newspapers and their employees fall into the glass-is-half-empty category once a loved one ends up in the police blotter.

I've tried to battle the perception, but in 30 years haven't met much success.

Forget the fact that we run a ton of stories about the good things happening - the good work of our churches and charities, stories of Boy Scouts earning eagle ranks, spelling bee winners, the accomplishments of a multitude of caring, outstanding citizens, kids' achievements in schools and on the field of competition.

In smaller communities where I've worked we ran the honor rolls from every school for every semester. Still, I'd get the complaints about never putting anything good about kids in the paper.

At that paper, it prompted me to start a new weekly feature in the paper that was titled "Good News About Kids." How can people continue that complaint when the headline of the story is "Good News About Kids"? I quieted those complainers, I reckoned. I was wrong.

I've quit tilting at this windmill. For many, this perception is reality - even though it's not true.

I have a theory on why I can't bust this myth and that is that the bad news is what people remember ... and talk about. Juicy gossip about an acquaintance's arrest is more likely to come up at dinner than a conversation on the math program at the local elementary school.

At the Daily Post, we've always been cognizant of the need to keep a "mix" in the paper and especially on our front page. Sure, there might be a devastating fire (bad news), but you're just as likely to read about a food pantry that's helping the needy or a pep rally at a high school (good news).

Each day we publish, our front page has what we refer to as the "dominant package." Generally, this is the story that runs with the lead photo and takes up the most real estate on page one. Ninety-eight percent of the time, this package focuses on something or someone "good."

So yes, we'll be running stories of fire, flood, drug busts, gang activity, etc. But we hope you notice the good stuff, too.

One time a reader, upset over a "bad news" story, called to accuse me of exploiting the situation. "All you want to do is to sell newspapers," he claimed.

To that charge, I must plead guilty; I do want to sell newspapers. But I also recognize that just reporting the negative isn't the way to get the job done.

J.K. Murphy is publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at jk.murphy@gwinnettdailypost.com.