David Higgerson

Social: Why good news is often the best news for readers



In Hartlepool, a new weekly newspaper has launched, Prolific North reported this week. Hartlepool Life, with a run of 25,000 a week, is focused on the positive things in life.

The anti-digital message from the journalists behind it is nothing new when reading about start-up news organisations, with former Hartlepool Mail picture editor Dirk Van Der Werff stating:

“Our newspaper is only posted online the day before the next issue so we can refer people to it. Putting news online has killed so many newspapers, including the one we all loved so dearly, so we’re not making the same mistake.”

That simply isn’t true – as anyone who explores the question of “What would have happened if newspapers hadn’t put news online?” knows. The challenge for local journalism is much more profound, as illustrated by the fact Hartlepool Life is a free publication. But of Hartlepool Life’s ‘unique selling point’ Dirk, I think, is on to something:

Facebook and online forums do anger and darkness and negativity so much better nowadays, so we’re a newspaper without any of those things – and our readers love it.”

While it would be wrong to suggest that ‘bad’ news stories aren’t working online for local journalists – indeed, a look through the most-read articles across the network of websites I work with shows they are generally the most popular with casual and loyal readers alike, and tend to be posted as reference points to the forums and social networks being mentioned above – there’s no doubt the digital age has brought about a change in thinking about positive news.

It was a point made by Newsquest chief executive Henry Faure-Walker in a Guardian article at the start of the year. In it, he said:

“My sense from talking to editors is that there is a shift away from car crash content. People seem more receptive to a slightly gentler approach than shouty red-top journalism.”

The desire to read positive news to demonstrated by a look at the social media posts which over-performed most for the regional Press over the past week. By chance, if we start in Sunderland, just up the road from Hartlepool, the latest news on Bradley Lowery, the little boy whose fight with neuroblastoma has captured the hearts of millions, clearly brought smiles to many:

In Glasgow, news of a massive haul of food donated during a charity drive at a Celtic game prompted a burst of sharing:

There was a similar reaction to generosity in Bristol too:

This was the most engaged-with post of the week on the Liverpool Echo site. The Grand National is big news for the Echo online, and the fact this story stood out the most backs up the good news thinking:

Defining news is notoriously tricky. What is ‘good news’? For example, this article from the Stourbridge News is about how a community is responding to very bad news – death. But at the same time, the fact a community is coming together to pay its respects is something to be celebrated – and the fact that this is one of the most over-performing posts of the year for the News is a reminder of the importance of covering positive actions triggered by negative events:

Another great example of good news coming out of something bad from the Cambridge News:

When does good news become nice news? Are they one in the same? This story was widely shared in Hudderfield, and certainly is one of the two:

Other good news of a different sort was evident in Ardrossan, Scotland, with news that plans to scrap the area’s ferry had been put on ice:

In New York, it was the celebration of everything Scottish which caught the eye of the Scotsman:

Then, of course, there’s the good news which always comes round at this time of year – football clubs being promoted:

Stories about something being named the best land on news desks every week. And much as we might be cynical about them, the reaction they get from readers – almost universally positive – has made us rethink their worth to audiences. This was the most over-performing post at the Daily Post in North Wales this week, for example:

And news, presumably, doesn’t get any happier than this:

And finally, perhaps the lesson in here is that local news is learning not to just be there for the bad thing in life, to ruin the old Yellow Pages saying. If that is the case, then this example from CornwallLive probably sums it up best. Sometimes, just sharing nice stuff is the best thing you can do: