‘Bad news’ more appealing?

Published 11:14 am Monday, October 10, 2016

“Do you want to hear a good story or a bad story?” my 6-year-old granddaughter Arianna asked while jumping onto my lap with two books in her hand.

“Why would I want to hear a bad story?” I asked her, smiling at her enthusiasm to practice her growing reading skills, and admittedly, how cute she looked with the gap in her bottom teeth after losing her first baby tooth a few days prior.

“Because it’s scary!” she replied.

So “Scary, Scary Halloween,” it was. The good story, “Olivia Helps Mother Nature,” was put down on the ground.

“I’ll read that one tomorrow,” she said, opening the Halloween book.

At 6 years old, my beloved grand baby was now like most of the human race.

Newspapers in years past could only judge how well the paper was being received through the number of subscribers and advertisers. Now, we can track how well-read each individual story is through Google Analytics.

A computer screen in the newsroom shows us how many people are reading what story at any given time. Facebook shows us how often people have shared a particular story and how many people that story has reached through those shares.

The data has helped prove what newspaper writers have already known for many years — people like reading bad news.

I’ve written stories recently that spoke of human kindness from Oxford residents donating more than $3,000 to help a local carpenter replace his stolen tools, and about a little dog who helped save her owner by barking until help arrived after he fell off his ATV. Those stories were shared a few times, reaching a couple thousand people.

But post a story about a murder, a football player being arrested or a clown sighting, and those numbers quadruple.

The Crime Report has always been one of the most-read sections of any newspaper.

I’m sure there’s been millions of dollars to study the human psyche and why we are attracted to “bad news.” Maybe it makes us feel a little bit better about ourselves when we can read about the misfortune, misery loves company they say. Perhaps we just like to gossip, which Facebook sharing generally is most times.

According to an article in Psychology Today, experts claim our brains evolved in a hunter-gatherer environment where anything novel or dramatic had to be attended to immediately for our survival. So bad news gets our blood boiling essentially which produces all kinds of hormones.

People living in small towns where “nothing ever happens” can now read all the “exciting” news from all over the world.

I’m not passing judgment as I am just guilty. It’s just how most people are wired and I don’t expect it will change anytime soon.

But maybe next time someone says, “I got good news and I got bad news,” choose the good news first.

alyssa schnugg is Senior Writer at the EAGLE. Write to her at alyssa.schnugg@oxfordeagle.com