Journalism Went Negative Because Bad News Sells—and May Make You Rich and Famous

A recent post, “We’re Journalists and We’re a Lot Smarter Than You Are,” said that journalism has changed with more journalists making it clear that they think they’re a lot smarter than their readers or the people they cover. More on why there’s more attitude and opinion in news stories.

Watergate made heroes out of Woodward and Bernstein. More young journalists wanted to be like them: Make someone resign, become rich and famous.

Henry Fairlie wrote a Washingtonian piece in 1984 about how journalists were getting rich. Get on television talk shows, get big checks by making speeches. Journalists increasingly could make big money and do just enough reporting to get by.

Oz Elliott, the former Newsweek editor, then teaching at the Columbia J School, told me that he wasn’t happy that journalists had discovered that selling attitude was a lot easier than reporting.

Then the Internet: To be seen as successful you had to build your brand. Journalists were judged by how many followers on Twitter. That encouraged journalists to be more public, more clever, more opinionated.

Old journalism had the writer do the reporting, then the editor and reporter decided on the headline. In the new journalism, the writer comes up with a headline and does just enough reporting to make it work.

For a writer to get the most attention, the more emotional and negative the better. In the landmark Daniel Kahneman book, Thinking: Fast and Slow, psychologist Paul Rozin pointed out that the negative trumps the positive in many ways. . . .A paper titled “Bad Is Stronger Than Good,” summarized the evidence: “Bad emotions. . . have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good.”

Nowhere is that more true than in today’s journalism.


Speak Your Mind