Is there a limit to the amount of bad news audiences can take?
17th October 2018
If you are having a bad day, it certainly isn’t going to be improved by switching on the news. The most upsetting stories can be those where people talk about their own personal tragedies, as these are so easy to relate to. But does following the news really have to be such a gruelling experience? As far as Steph Cripps, senior account manager (global) at communications agency TVC, is concerned the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’: “Emotive storytelling has always been a part of our narrative and a tool that PROs, marketers, journalists, brands and organisations use to articulate their perspectives and messaging. We use ‘real people’ as our voices in the news because real people resonate with other real people.
News should elicit a reaction
“For me, every time I hear something on the news, read an article, see a tweet or watch a video that makes me feel something – be that anger, sadness or happiness – it encourages a reaction. If I watch a video of women talking about the #metoo movement it makes me stand up for what I believe in; if I hear a story about a mother who lost her young child to cancer it reminds me to sign up to that charity run that I’ve been meaning to do.
“Now imagine those reactions reverberating around the country. Around the world. We watch stories about people because people are the driving force for change, for empathy and for the better. So keep tweeting and sharing and filling our feeds with news.”
Human stories bring it home
Another fan of news that tells personal, emotive stories is Claire Thompson, freelance consultant at Waves PR: “News needs to be human for us to engage with it.
“The story told by a father a few weeks ago of watching his daughter's last moments is more likely to encourage people to support his pleas for tighter regulation of food outlets than the data driven '4 people die each month of food allergies'.
“The horror and shame of a mother who wasn't brave enough to sit with her trapped daughter as the fire approached in Hiroshima is more likely to make us consider carefully the development of nuclear weapons and the need for peace than '129,000 people died horrific deaths in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.'
“Whilst data can lay out the size of a problem, the news relies on these stories to have an effect, make us consider, make us act – meaning that one of our highest currencies for PR programmes will always be 'case studies'.”
Real life is tough
The news is not meant to be happy, because real-life is tough says Chris Gilmour, director at agency Beattie Communications: “As a cub reporter on The Sun, I was told by a grizzled news editor that news is meant to educate, inform and reflect real life. And real life is sh*t sometimes. So the news agenda often isn’t somewhere to go to be cheered up.
“The preposterous trend towards safe spaces for those who can’t deal with a viewpoint that’s not theirs – or students at Manchester Uni banning clapping in favour of jazz hands in case loud noise upsets someone – could soon manifest itself on the news agenda.
“Imagine we ban ‘bad news’? Who decides what is good or bad, what level of upset is acceptable, and where commercial and editorial freedoms sit?
“As PROs, how would we promote campaigns to raise funds to fight life-threatening diseases, famines, natural disasters if real-life case studies were deemed too upsetting? How could we influence politicians to change laws without talking about serious crimes?
“If news is meant to reflect real life, it needs to be genuine, gritty – and occasionally tear-jerking.”
Sometimes we should resist bad news
However, Josh Hinton, consultant at PR agency LEWIS, believes that wallowing in misery isn’t always the right thing to do for the news, and is certainly not the right approach for PROs to take: “The media loves misery. Every gap in programming is automatically filled with run-of-the-mill sadness, reminding us that life is short, painful and unsafe.
“The horror is that we don’t rebel. We’ve been raised to believe that good news is no news, and back that up with what we read. We’re drenched in other people’s darkness and it makes our own worlds a little bit worse.
“The temptation is for B2B brands to follow suit – but it can benefit your PR to focus on positivity instead. For example, the great tech brands sell better visions of the future, with their customers as the protagonists in an easier reality.
“How are your customers achieving greatness? How is your innovation changing the world? Whose day is better because your company exists? These stories can also be told.
“We’re living through the greatest age of human invention in history, but it’s always in the nature of humans to want more. B2B brands must harness that by appealing to the desire to improve, not the fear of loss. An ethical approach doesn’t have to contradict business sense. You can make the case for your company without adding to the tide of anxiety.”
An important part of any PRO’s job is monitoring what is happening in society and that means following the news. Generally, the PR jury agrees that news is, and should be, bad news, so just make sure you don’t let it get you down!
Written by Daney Parker+, Editor, PRmoment.com