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Why doesn’t the media ever publish GOOD news?

July 27, 2020

After I wrote my recent article celebrating some hard-hitting Vermont Cynic journalism, I received some pointed public criticism from a University of Vermont colleague whom I deeply respect. Here it is:

I hope the Cynic is also predisposed and willing to consider the right-doing of UVM. I’ve spent the past 19 years of my life trying to make a difference for UVM students, alumni and stakeholders. I’m fortunate that I have many administrative and faculty colleagues who have done the same. I begin each day by looking in the mirror and hope that others who would glance my way would do the same.

Every journalist, regardless of whether they write what might be perceived as negative or positive news, eventually gets this kind of criticism. In my experience, it would often boil down to the question: “Why doesn’t the media ever publish good news?”

I believe my colleague when she says that she seeks to make a difference in the lives of the people she touches. I believe this is true of most educators, and I value and love them for it. But her question deserves a response, which I’ve told her I would share on this blog. Here it is:

For more, read the SPJ code of ethics

I agree that the Cynic should celebrate the positive, and, to be honest, that’s primarily what they do. The essence of news is to address problems, including problems that have been overcome, and this focus lies at the center of the significant amount of good news that the Cynic’s student journalists so often publish, in which they recognize the great work and accomplishments of the wonderful people in our university community. These stories comprise the vast majority of their work.

The reason I chose to mention recent accountability journalism now is that, in this moment in our country and community especially, it’s important for the press to draw attention to ongoing problems so that these problems can be addressed by more people and, potentially, can be solved, if only in part. To me, journalists’ motivation to produce this kind of work is the same as the motivation of the people who are bravely protesting in the streets of our country. I don’t believe the Cynic editors are saying that anyone is inherently bad—not at all—but rather they are seeking to raise the profile of problematic actions and challenges that together we’re facing so that, perhaps, actions can change and lives can be improved. At times, the Cynic offers solutions on the editorial pages, and this is worth admiring, too.

But I understand my colleague’s desire to see more celebration. In that spirit, and to push back against any conception that the Cynic focuses primarily on the “negative,” here are some of my favorite recent Cynic articles. I’d encourage everyone to read them to learn more about the magnificent people, beneficial actions and fascinating stories all around us.

Some writers and producers seek primarily to entertain a mass audience or please their sources, but the best ones seek to serve the public good by telling stories that impact their readership. Oftentimes, this work involves telling uncomfortable truths. At other times, as I hope I’m showing, journalistic work celebrates successes. The core of these stories continue to be problems, but frequently they are problems solved or, at least, addressed.

The Cynic certainly does both. In an era where professional news organizations continue to shrink, student journalists have become even more vital. They continue to fight the good fight. Every educator should seek to support them: to help them develop and offer respectful criticism and education whenever possible. As older adults, it’s the least we can do for these younger adults, whose efforts will shape public debate for decades to come.

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