I don’t usually watch TV news but sometimes I can’t avoid it . Yesterday morning , I was at the gym walking on the treadmill when I looked at the ceiling TV monitor right in front of me . Usually it’s tuned to ESPN but yesterday it had been switched to ABC . As I watched , the news anchor came on , said “Good morning. This is ____” and immediately launched into the story of a late night shooting in which one person was killed and two others wounded.This was followed by a lengthy report from Kansas City about a cute little baby girl who has been missing for a couple of weeks . It went downhill from there and I couldn’t help wondering why we humans love to hear about bad things happening elsewhere in the world.
It’s easy to blame the media for focusing on bad news but they would not do so unless there was a market for it , unless they felt that this is what the public wanted to see and hear . I’ve seen plenty of articles about the fact that bad news sells , but not why it sells . This is a different question than ” Which would you rather hear first , the good news or the bad news ? “. Most people respond to that by saying that they would rather hear the bad news first , because they feel that once they are have weathered that, the worst will be over and things can only get better .
So, ” Why do people want to hear bad news ? “. So let me take a stab at it . Here goes :
First and foremost , I don’t feel it’s because they actually revel in bad things happening to other people. It’s true there are plenty of mean people out there but I hope the majority of us are not like them. Rather , I think it’s that when people hear about bad things happening elsewhere to someone else , they feel good that it didn’t happen to them and that , no matter how bad their own situation , at least they are better off than someone else.” I may not be doing so hot but at least I’m doing better than that poor schmuck .”
Secondly , bad news is more dramatic and interesting …as long as it happens to someone else , that is . I suppose there is a ghoulish fascination in seeing how badly things can go wrong and how people in these situations cope with their misfortune . If it is a crime story , there are two additional points of interest : trying to figure out what happened and who the guilty party is (i.e it’s a real life mystery novel ) and thinking how to avoid ever being in that same situation oneself. If it’s a natural disaster , it’s re-assurance that it ( a landslide in California, a sinkhole in Florida) can’t happen to us . If it is something that could happen in our particular area, we think about how we can reduce our vulnerability.
These thoughts may occur on a subconscious or subliminal level ; we may not even be aware that we are harboring them . Well , those are my explanations ; can you come up with something better ?