Mainstream media outlets have to favor bad news over the good, and not just because “If it bleeds, it leads.” Think about a half hour world news program that doesn’t feature death, destruction or mayhem in it somewhere. Otherwise, it would be incredibly boring, wouldn’t it? It would be like going to James Bond film and not seeing any guns, scantily-clad girls or explosions.
Myths: The Original Bad News
As a species, we have a fascination with tragedy. Remember, there was a big reason why Thomas Mallory chose the title L’Morte de Arthur (The Death of Arthur) rather than The Life of Arthur. Because the key moment in the King Arthur myth is how he died (or didn’t die…but that’s a different subject.)
Our myths and legends that have survived the centuries mainly deal with bad news. Gilgamesh, for example, not only suffered during the quest to find the plant of immortality, he LOST it to a snake. However, he discovered he could become immortal through his works and so built a big wall around his city. That wall no longer exists (if it ever did) but the story does.
The pivotal moment in Nordic mythology is the death of Baldur, which begins the chain of events that lead to the end of the world and the creation of a glorious new one. We seem to learn more from the mistakes that our gods and heroes make than their triumphs.
Another reason that bad news is appealing is that is that living through tragedy is not an everyday occurrence or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Most of us don’t go through getting shot at or surviving a tornado every single day of our lives. Deep down inside, we want to know what our neighbors and ourselves are capable of when faced with the worst the world can throw at all of us.
We also have a part of us that loves hearing about other people’s misery, especially to people we don’t like very much. This can be reserved for certain individuals, political parties or countries. Getting pleasure from other people’s pain is technically called “schatenfreude” (no relation to Sigmund Freud. The term was not coined by Freud, as is commonly believed, but by German sociologist Theodor Adorno).
Survival Of The Smartest
We also like to listen to bad news as a matter of personal survival. In reading or listening to the horror stories of others, we learn a little about how to get through such situations ourselves. That is one of the reason why Stephen King is so popular, as horror stories help train our brains to get through the worst.
So, ultimately the reason why mainstream media favors telling bad news over good is because they are giving us exactly what we want to hear.