Why it’s so hard to get good news stories in the media

    Many of us say we would prefer to hear more good news stories in the media – but, from a public relations perspective, this is easier said than done.

    We all know media outlets prefer to lead their bulletins and publications with disasters, scandals, and bad news rather than positive news stories. And one of the reasons could be that negative stories are more compelling for viewers, listeners, and readers.

    The role of journalists and media organisations is to produce news stories that inform but they need to be put together in a way that is also interesting and entertaining for consumers. So, why is it so hard to get good news stories in the media?


    Do you want the good news or the bad news?

    Research around how we relate to the news is extensive, with countless studies done on human behaviour and our reactions to positive and negative images, headlines, and stories. And, as we know, by far, the biggest emotional response is to the negative.

    We may prefer good news stories, but we are always drawn to the bad stories and tend to remember these the most.

    There are many theories on why, from so called ‘negativity bias’ – a term psychologists use for our hunger to hear and remember bad news – to our brains being predisposed towards negative information. We react quicker to negative words such as ‘war’ or ‘bomb’ as they may be a signal that we need to do something to avoid danger. The perceived costs of bad situations outweigh the potential benefits of good situations and so we focus on the negative rather than the positive.

    Another theory is that because negative stories rate higher and attract larger audiences, journalists and news bosses are innately trained towards running these stories more often and higher in their bulletins and publications. When disasters strike – such as cyclones, floods, and bushfires – audiences and circulation numbers are bigger than slower news days when stories develop in small increments. One online newspaper even recorded a 66 per cent drop in readership on one such ‘slow news day’.

    How to wrap a good story with a bad story

    While good news stories, such as a fundraising campaign for a charity or a new strategy to address poverty, homelessness, drunkenness, or even suicide, are worthwhile, journalists don’t consider them “enough” by themselves to attract a headline. But if you add a bad news element, such as a strong case study of how someone overcame their alcohol addiction, or figures showing how prevalent an issue is in society, you are adding an element that’s more interesting for the audience.

    Adoni Media’s Senior Account Manager, Jane Henschke, was the news boss of a metropolitan television newsroom and says: “Many good news stories came across my desk but unless they had an interesting hook, they were often passed over”.

    “An interesting hook could be as simple as overcoming adversity. A person who has turned their life around from bad experiences, speaks well on camera, and has before and after images or video of their transformation often helped bring a good news story into the rundown,” she said.

    “By demonstrating the negative side of a positive story, the case study would help trigger an emotional response from the audience making the news story and, therefore the bulletin, more interesting and engaging.”

    The negative carried the positive.

    Bringing the human element

    “Now working in PR, the Adoni team knows how important it is to humanise stories when we are pitching to news organisations. Case studies also help when geo-targeting stories by offering local angles, as we all know local stories resonate well and are more likely to get a run,” she said.

    Sad as it is, the reality is we are not programmed to engage as highly with good news stories as we are with the bad. But by bringing in a human element or a negative aspect of the story you are pitching, there’s a greater chance of your story getting over the line.

    For 10 years, the team at Adoni Media has been achieving proven results for clients, ranging from leading charities to not-for-profit organisations and Fortune 500 and ASX-listed companies.

    If you have a story – good or bad – you’d like to be told to a wide audience, contact us.