People Like Bad News Stories Media Essay

News values (or sometimes called “news criteria”) commonly play an important role in the gatekeeping process. Firstly, they generally recommend whether a story or an event is likely to be selected as news. Secondly, they will be treated as special items needed to be underscored, or even exaggerated when a news story is written. As a result, with the belief that these items could draw the attention of the readers, the news stories might be distorted. Finally, news values are further emphasized passes through each stage of the production process. They are highlighted and are believed can represent the worth of the news. (Harcup & O’Neill, 2001). With these, it is commonly suggested that the more news values an event contained, the more possible it becomes news. And those who is weak in one news values is demanded to make it up by being particular strong in one or more others. (Galtung & Ruge, 1965) Consequently, it seems necessary to create a common, generally agreed list about news values. Many have tried to give their own version of it. Unfortunately, as Ryan (1991) argued “There is no end to lists of news criteria”. Ryan’s statement is mostly based on the idea of the news events’ diversity in narrative and the varied features between different types of news events. Galtung and Ruge’s twelve criteria [1] in news written is the most commonly cited list and considered can be applied in a relatively wide range of news events. Forty years ago, Galtung and Ruge gave this list with the initial purpose to explain why the news media in a given country might choose to cover some international events but not others. However it was further approved to be suitable in many other types of news. The list included unambiguous, unexpectedness, continuity, personification, negativity and etc. Negativity is what we will focus on.

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As noted by Hartley, “bad news is good news” (Hartley, 1982, p. 79; see also Schwartz, 2005). Negativity is one of most important news values. (Hall et al, 1978) One who has examined the contemporary news landscape would certainly support this idea. Based on news content analyses, Rotberg and Weiss (1996) suggested that bad news stories have covered far more space of the newspapers than good news stories. Meanwhile, the number of bad news stories is increasing. In Shapiro’s discussion of “depressing” news items, she was aware of a trend towards depressing stories (or in her paper, “emotional journalism”) identifiable since the 1960s and 1970s but obtained a magnification September 11. (Shapiro, 2006) The bad news stories provide a diversion from the normal life. Contradicted to the believed tendencies that people want to see the world as a stable, controllable place, where good things happen to good people, Heath’s analysis indicted that people were more prefer the bad news and willing to pass along bad news than equally believable good news. (1996) People prefer consuming bad news stories. They will pay more attentions to the bad news stories although those stories were less relevant to their real life and they can do less to affect the ongoing events. (Heath, 1996) The assumption of negativity, the news value, guarantees the sale volume of news. It will be further explained with the following example.

The photo “Xie Shi Yao Jia” (Rely on corpse asking price) was first published on Hua Shang Bao (the Chinese Businessmen Newspaper). It was taken by press-photographer Zhang Yi. It interprets a story recently happened in China. In 2009 October 24th, students of Yangtze university, He Dongxu, Fang Zhao and Chen Jishi sacrificed their life to save two drowning children. But the company, who is in charge of retrieving their corpses from the water, demanded to negotiate the payment first instead of saving the life, which, as a result, missing the best time to rescue. Facing the begging of the students, the company still insisted to be paid first and asked for 36,000 yuan. The photo records the moment when the price was fixed but the company denied drawing the students’ bodies from the water with the reason that they had not been paid off. This news story received wide attention from the whole country. Most of news agency reprinted the news at the first the time. [2] Meanwhile extensive discussion about this incident and relevant objects was developed via blog or micro blog (for example “Wei Bo”, a Chinese version of twitter). In 2010, the photo “Xie Shi Yao Jia” won the “Golden Lens” reward which represents the highest honor of China news photo.

More often than not, it accomplishes the abundant content of negative news story as a result of the reflection of different news values in it. As noted by the Gaultung and Ruge in their original 1965 article, news values’ operations are not distinct, but instead appear to be the same value with diverse formulations; the covered contents here are heavily overlaying. (Galtung & Ruge, 1965) A good news story can be deconstructed into different news values. Or in other words, it is more like the cooperation among several news values. Meanwhile, this fact is especially notable during the utilizing of Gaultung and Ruge’s last four criteria. (Harcup & O’Neill, 2001) Gaultung and Ruge suggested that the first eight news criteria are relatively intended to be distinct, and to operate worldwide. While the last eight, which are Elite nations, Elite people, Personification and Negativity, are referred to be more culturally determined and aimed at describing the press of Western nations. (Galtung & Ruge, 1965) Consequently, they are intended to be regarded as some common combination of the other eight criteria in a certain extent. For example, Negativity. In a normal environment which is stable and controllable for the individual, the negative events are Unexpected. Secondly, the negative events often can be distinguished into white and black, which easy for readers to understand. They are less ambiguity. (Harcup & O’Neill, 2001) Finally, journalist prefers to interpret the news stories from the perspective of the tragedy of the individual. As a result, the negative events are personification.

Negative news story is often unexpected. As mentioned above, the negative event plays a role of intruder in relatively stable and controllable normal life of the individual. To a large extent, the negative news is highly relevant with the subject of death and immorality. Estimating the popularity of the negative news stories on mass media, it is suggested that the public has established a fascination toward these subject. (McKenzie, 2005) As Aristotle claimed: “(the death) was to produce in the audience an effect of catharsis… With souls thus cleansed, the audience goes forth from the play sobered and saddened, but also renewed for the task of living.” (Heath, 1996) Those negative events provide an opportunity for readers to experience the accidents rarely happened without taking too much risk.

Bad news is easy to be interpreted. As mentioned above, news value “negativity” is often accompanied with “unambiguous”. Journalists notice that it is simpler to develop an angle in a bad news story than a more positive one. (Rosewarne, n.d.) This point is proved by John Schwartz in his discussion of the violent death of former Australian cricketer, David Hookes:

While the news of Hookes’ death was also entirely negative, it was at least manageable and straightforward to comprehend. It was a local bad news story that had all the essential elements of a classic tragedy (Schwartz, 2005).

In the same way, readers will find it easy to understand a negative news story and to receive the angle given by journalists because the opposites are distinctly identified in the story already. It shortens the process for readers to seize the central thought of the news story and develop their own opinion. Additionally, its quality of less complexity makes it easy to be remembered and be more possible to be passed alone. (Heath, 1996) In the example mentioned above, the good side (represented by the university students who sacrificed their life for saving drowning children) and the evil side (represented by the company who was greed and disregarded life) construct the two main opposites of the story. Therefore, the collision between the two sides led the news story present as a dramatically contrast. This contrast, to a large extent, achieves the goal to make the story noticeable and strike the hearts.

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Angle towards the tragic individual is preferred when interpret a negative news story. It is regarded can efficiently arouse sympathy around the readers. Therefore, bad news story often combined with the characteristic of the news value “personification”. That is, when journalist tries to interpret an event, the perspective in terms of the actions of individual actors is more likely to be chosen. (Braun, 2008) In fact, many negative news stories can be concluded as tragedy of the individual. Meanwhile, as noted by Shapiro, “readers respond powerfully to these emotional sagas”. (Shapiro, 2006) Consequently, an opportunity is created for the readers to relate and respond the negative news story emotionally. (Wirth & Schramm, 2005) Take the photo “Xie Shi Yao Jia” as example. The actions of individuals certainly constitute the main construction of this news story. The death of the university students forms the first part of the tragedy. Furthermore, according to the logic that good person should have a good destiny and should be respected by the society, the action of the company form the second part of the tragedy. The value of life was disregarded but the bodies of heroes were treated as the weights to negotiate the payment. The bottle line of current Chinese social morality was challenged by their behavior.

To sum up, it is suggested that news values represent the worthiness of news. They are important in deciding whether an event or a story is likely to be selected to become a news report. According to Galtung and Ruge’s twelve news criteria, an event with a negative outcome is more preferred to be reported. The example of news story “Xie Shi Yao Jia” proved this idea. Meanwhile, the news value negativity shares heavy overlap with others news values rather than be distinct. Characters belong to others news values are often illustrated in a negative news story. Firstly, negative news stories are unexpected. Secondly, they are unambiguous or less ambiguous. It is easy for readers to understand a negative story because the actors in the story can be clearly identified to be black and white. Finally, the way to interpret a negative news story in an angle of the individual lead the story to be more personified.



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