Some time ago, I sat in a church class and as the discussion started, I began to get nervous.
The class instructor had brought his Sunday Deseret News to church and had even borrowed some copies from his neighbors. He divided the class into small groups and distributed sections of the newspaper.He asked each group to count the number of "negative" and "positive" stories in the section. That's when I knew I was in trouble. He obviously wanted to make the point that the news media run too many negative stories and contribute to the societal pessimism that abounds.
The class members knew, of course, that I worked for the Deseret News and jokes began to be aimed in my direction. I was (and am) well aware of the strong sentiments held by many people that the news media focus too much on the negative, that we fill the papers and airwaves with crime, corruption and calamity, and ignore the good things all about us.
I'm highly sensitive to those charges and I was feeling the heat as friends and neighbors were scrutinizing my newspaper.
As a newspaper reader, you ought to know that Deseret News editors devote a great deal of thought and consideration to story selection each day. We don't necessarily seek out the negative, although we obviously do run negative stories.
Negative things do happen in the world and a newspaper, to some extent, should reflect society, not endorsing or condoning the bad stuff, but not glossing over it either.
Editors work hard to balance the news columns. How we approach story selection gets back to the role and mission of a daily newspaper. And that role is a complicated one.
We first have a well-established responsibility to provide readers with information important to them. Keeping readers informed about developments and issues in government, politics, business, science, the arts, international affairs, education and every other facet of society is a major role. And if you look carefully through an entire paper and note the many topics and specialties covered, you'll be surprised at the breadth and depth of coverage and the diversity.
So that first role is to provide a window on the world, to keep readers informed of developments - both the good and the bad - in the world around them.
Interestingly, we could probably perform that role very well and still not be a successful newspaper. Successful newspapers must pay their bills and make a profit, and that means we must sell a lot of newspapers to provide circulation and advertising revenue.
To fulfill that second important role - to be successful as a business - we must not just inform, but also entertain. A mass circulation newspaper will not succeed with a lot of important - but boring - news. We must mix in a strong dose of entertainment like the comics, Dear Abby, movie reviews, light features and items on the offbeat and unusual to sell enough newspapers to be successful.
At the city desk, we have a sort of standing joke. When a reporter tells me he or she has a good story coming, I sometimes ask, "Is it interesting, or it is important?"
The best stories are both, but many are either one or the other. The trick is to provide the proper balance, and we work hard at that.
Those were all things that were running through my mind in the church class as my friends and neighbors were judging my newspaper. I'm happy to report that things turned out quite well, as far as I was concerned, as a result of that little unscientific survey.
"Positive" stories far outnumbered "negative" stories, even when a "neutral" category was thrown in. The truth is that if you sit down and count them, there will be far more positive stories in any day's newspaper, even in the hard news sections, than negative ones.
I suppose one reason the perception exists that we run mostly negative news is because the reader is drawn to them. Sensational crime and corruption draw avid reader interest. There may be five or six stories on the front page every day. But you'll only really read and notice a couple of them, and they are likely to be the most sensational ones.
In other words, if you think we think run too many negative stories, perhaps it's because those are the ones you're reading.