Sad as this will seem, tragedy usually is the biggest news in any community. As much as we all pine for good news, humanity reacts most strongly to stories that relate to something bad happening.
This certainly was in evidence last week, when six of our top 10 stories were about an accident on Interstate 82 that took the lives of three Tri-Citians.
I've given a presentation several times about my job here at the Herald. During one segment, I ask for a show of hands to this question: How many people would prefer to read a "feel good" story vs. one that deals with tragedy. Invariably, 80% of the audience will say they want good news. Then I point out the statistics on our site that show "good news" stories that are prominently displayed get one-fourth of the traffic (or less) compared with stories that deal with crime, fire or death. This is why we have a "crime" menu at the top of our website, and not a "good news" menu.
I suspect a lot of the traffic comes from people wondering if they know any of the people involved in the story. Perhaps some of it has to do with us feeling better about ourselves because the tragedy didn't strike our lives.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Undoubtedly, the media are at least partially responsible for this. We feed the need for people to know what is happening with celebrities and politicians, and we breathlessly report the latest from a big trial. But frankly, if nobody wanted to read about bad things happening, then media would stop reporting them. And I will guarantee you that if the Tri-City Herald (or any other newspaper) didn't cover the story of last week's fatal accident, we would have heard plenty from many of you.
This is an issue I've struggled with my entire career. I think the Herald does a fair job of writing "good" stories and publishing photos of people enjoying our community. Yet we are regularly accused of playing up bad news "to sell newspapers." (Trust me: Circulation numbers rarely go up when bad news occurs; we do much better with high school football coverage.)
What do you think?