Nattering against nabobs of negativity
One thing is never new to people in the news business. Among the first complaint any of us except amateurs and charlatans hears is why we publish so much negative news.
Believe it or not, journalists work tirelessly to find positive stories. Last week, we sought out stories about kindergartners going back to school, about a police officer whose motivation is helping people, about a church going halfway around the world to find its pastor, about a young family that works together to keep the county fed, about all the new teachers in the county, and about dozens of other things from events and reunions to rural life and memories of years gone by.
Still, unless we are to become no better than pushers selling feel-good drugs, we also have an obligation to report news that may not be so positive. We like it no better than our readers do. We do, after all, live in the same community. But the most negative thing we could ever do would be to refuse to publish something just because it’s negative.
The National Football League’s most valuable player is known for pointing out problems his teammates may have with their game. The time to worry, he says, would be if he ever stopped. Only if he thinks a teammate is incapable of improvement will he not offer tips on how to get better.
Negative is negative only if we let it be. Take this week’s story about the arrest of a part-time Peabody police officer accused of being drunk on duty. At first glance, it’s a scandal or at least a tragedy about alcohol’s dangerous potential to destroy livelihoods.
But there’s much more. A deputy barely past being called a rookie had the courage and dedication to report the situation. His boss took swift action. So did the allegedly intoxicated officer’s boss, not only firing the officer but also apologizing — even though he did nothing wrong.
All could have ignored the situation or hushed it up. The sheriff not only dealt with it; he dealt with it in the most open manner possible, reassuring us that the system works. One person’s negative actions were more than counterbalanced by people of honor and responsibility doing their jobs openly and publicly in a way that won’t allow an individual’s problems to fester until they become community problems.
Any crime story can be interpreted two ways. Arrests don’t mean our community is riddled by crime. Crime happens whether people are arrested or escape detection. Arrests mean our community is being protected, and that positive should outweigh any negative.
Accidental deaths teach us how accidents happened and may prevent similar accidents in the future. Disease and suffering often are greeted by outpourings of help that can set an example for response to future tragedies.
We’ve rarely found a cloud of negativity that doesn’t have a silver lining of positivity. The greatest negativity may be among those who can’t or won’t find it and insist that the cloud never existed.
Newspapers can’t solve problems, but they can identify them so the community can come together to do so. Problems will exist whether they’re pointed out or covered up, but solutions come only when problems are recognized and dealt with.
— ERIC MEYER