“No” was also the vehement response to whether they’d read an article on road construction improvements.
But the story on the missing child – that was one they wanted to read. All the way to the end.
I was talking to an eighth grade journalism class in North Salt Lake about headline writing. How headlines have to be sentences and have to accurately portray what’s in the story to let the readers know what’s ahead so they can decide if they want to read more. And if they don’t, at least they’ve learned something from the short phrase.
I found the students’ response not surprising but disappointing.
Maybe because I’d written the story on the city council meeting, but maybe more because they were flat-out rejecting things that should matter to them. Like many much older do.
Those in the news industry are often criticized for writing the bad stuff. Sadly, the bad stuff is news. And even more sadly, it is often the stories people read. All the way to the end.
There is value beyond satiating a morbid curiosity in reading the bad news, which I do as much as anyone. When we read of a child swept away in a stream, we vow to be more vigilant with our own children. When we read of a fire started by firecrackers or cigarettes, we may be more likely to take greater care.
Likewise, when national news brings stories of disasters, reading about them may motivate us to donate more generously or prepare more earnestly for our own potential crises. Reading of a scandal, while it can make us all voyeurs in some sense, can engender sympathy or prevent other infractions. OK, I’m stretching here. We’re just plain curious and nothing’s more interesting than someone messing up when it’s not someone we are personally responsible for or related to or represented by.
Bottom line is bad news is news. And bad news gets read. You didn’t run home from school as a kid and tell your mom about a math problem. Because you did math every day.
You ran home and told her how Johnny broke his ankle when he fell off the slide because you wanted her to hear it from you first and because she’d want to know so she could run some rolls over to Johnny’s mother and because she’d get all worried and warn you to be careful on the slide and you’d just smile inside knowing your mom always worried about you even when it was Johnny who was always breaking something. And you’d tell her because it was different from what happened every other day.
Some people think newspeople love writing bad news. Because their stories will be read. All the way to the end. It’s actually one of the hardest, most sensitive, most stressful things we do.
But there are also stories we hope people will read about art, music, schools, people, businesses, sports, festivals and community events. Kind of like telling mom about the part you got in the play or the role you’re filling on the sports team.
And we also write the less exciting news about (with my apologies to politicians) legislative decisions and court rulings and traffic issues and yes, city council meetings. And we do that not because it’s easy or popular but because it matters. Just like math.
Mom did care about those math problems, as you remember. Because she knew they mattered to you. To your grade, to your future.
And even if your taxes aren’t going up, even if a road isn’t going through your neighborhood, even if no natural disasters are involved, we hope those are stories you’ll read. All the way to the end.
Because it matters.