One approach to reporting good news

A friend of mine who works for the Food Trust passed along this article from today’s (Monday, 9/27/10) Philly Inquirer.  It is a “good news” story: a West Philadelphia family that recognized their son’s obesity risk and did something about it.  The article ties the Footes family’s story into larger Philadelphia efforts to inject healthy eating habits into the city’s African American neighborhoods.

Part of my problem with typical “good news” is that it focuses on individual feel-good stories and stops there.  These stories seem afraid to go big picture because, you are left to reason, the big picture is bad.  This trend (coupled with the marketing decision to not offend anybody) leads to asinine publications like Reader’s Digest, whose idea of news is profiles of couples married for 70 years and dogs who rescue their owners from floods.  Newspapers like the Inquirer are capable of printing feel-good “human interest” stories, but they run in the same section as big-picture articles about how obesity is going to cost American eight gazillion dollars in health care expenditures.  It’s hard to get jazzed about one family’s success when it’s followed up with an article about national crises.

So this article suggests a template for making in-roads into the national media’s bad-news habit.  Find a human-interest story and use it as an entry point to discuss national trends.  Then find within those trends reasons for optimism.  Wording is important: efforts are under way to improve the situation.  Plans and initiatives, frequently ambitious and progressive (danger in that word, but fuck it), bolstered by new research and backed by success stories which all lead to projections and attainable goals that, if met, would save X dollars and Y lives over Z years.  That’s the stuff.

There are massive lists of words sitting in political consultancy offices, lists of words to use in describing opponents and words to use in describing yourself.  Perhaps news desks should get a copy of those lists, and as their own public health initiative, start using the positive lists whenever possible in an innovative approach to lowering blood pressure nation-wide.

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