Are positive stories newsworthy?

Why is the media coverage so often dominated by negative news?

It’s a question often asked by delegates during our media training courses.

We’ve all seen examples of negative stories going almost instantly viral.

And the impression news is negative is backed up by the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ newsroom mantra.

So, do positive stories pass the newsworthy test?

And how can your ones gain traction?

Well, you don’t have to look far to find an example of a positive news story that has gained brilliant coverage and proves positive stories continue to have strong news appeal.

Both Channel 4 News and ITV featured a story this week about the emergence of a new grey seal colony – the first in two decades - on a former military testing site in Suffolk.

More than 130 pups were born into the colony this winter.

The remote site is looked after by the National Trust, and the story provided some much-needed positive coverage for an organisation that often seems to be a target of criticism for being ‘woke’.

The Trust managed to keep the colony secret for three years while it established itself before inviting some media to view the pups.

Crucially, the charity had spokespeople who could help them tell the story and share anecdotes.  

Andrew Capell, ranger at the Orford Ness nature reserve, recounted the day in 2021 when he first saw them.

“I was just on a normal daily walk,” he told ITV.  

“And as I came over the ridge, there was kind of like a mass of seals.... 250 seals in one heap,” he said.

Matt Wilson, a countryside manager for the National Trust, was also interviewed.

He told Keme Nzerem – one of our expert media training tutors - who covered the story for Channel 4 News: “What we have here is a real opportunity to help protect these animals and help inform the public.

“It has been really difficult to keep it a secret. They are charismatic creatures. They are interested, quite inquisitive, and they have watched us the whole day, partly from an awareness point of view but also because they are curious because here, they don’t see a lot of people.”

The story has also been covered by Sky News and the Evening Standard. And it feels like the charity has been well-rewarded for the time and effort it would have taken to get journalists to the remote location.

And it is a great example of media outlets looking for stories that provide an antidote to the negative news cycle.

They want stories that offer optimism and hope amid the gloom. They are aware there is news fatigue, at least partly fuelled by the tough times people have lived through in recent years.

A report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that 46 per cent of people avoid the news. That figure increased from 24 per cent in 2017 and 35 per cent in 2019.

One of the main reasons identified for this growing trend is people not wanting it to have a negative impact on their mood.

Stories like the seals one provide relief from the heavy news that tends to dominate the headlines and help to draw in those who have become news avoiders.

It also ticks many of the elements of TRUTH, the acronym we use during our media training courses – and that we highlighted during our pitching masterclass – to explain what makes something newsworthy.

It stands for Timely, Relevant, Unusual, Trouble and Human interest.

Managing to keep the colony a secret for three years is unusual in the modern, hyper-connected world. And the fact they have taken over a former Cold War weapons testing site that people can’t easily reach, adds to the quirkiness and intrigue.

It is also the first new colony in two decades.

The ‘trouble’ box is ticked because the animals were once threatened with extinction.

The spokespeople on hand to tell the story adds some human interest.

And stories about nature and the environment are rarely out of the news, ticking the timely and relevant boxes.

 

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It was not the only story that stood out among the heavier content this week.

North Yorkshire Police gained plenty of coverage from a social media post about a man who called police to report that he was a drunk driver.

Man calls 999 to report himself for drink driving as breathalyser reveals he’s three times over limit LBC

Man calls police to report himself for drink-driving in North Yorkshire Guardian

Driver calls 999 to report himself for drink-driving in Knaresborough BBC News

Drunk driver 3 times legal limit reports himself to police in Knaresborough ITV

Now, it’s not a good news story in the sense of a newly revealed thriving seal colony.

But it is different. And oddity, novelty and strangeness help to break up the news cycle.

They entertain and provide relief. It is why the ‘unusual’ part of TRUTH is so essential.

As the police posts said, “It’s not every day” a suspected drink driver “dobs themselves in”.

That is why it captured the interest of many journalists. And got our seal of approval.

 

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our media training.

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