If it weren't for bad news.... - Word&Way

If it weren’t for bad news….

Buck Owens and Roy Clark made the song “Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me” a staple of the television show “Hee Haw” (1969-1992). The first verse went like this:

“Gloom, despair and agony on me;

Deep dark depression, excessive misery

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all;

Gloom, despair and agony on me.”

Many a person has quoted the line “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all” when he or she has suffered disappointment, misfortune or even tragedy.

A quick glance at the news suggests a paraphrase that might begin like this: “If it weren’t for bad news, I’d have no news at all.”

This week, the headlines read:

“Plane crashed in river” (after striking a bridge in Taipei, Taiwan)

“Pilot burned alive; what do ISIS, Jordan do next?”

“Jordan hangs two terrorists in retaliation”

“Six killed when train hits SUV in New York”

“NFL bans star wide receiver for year” (for detrimental off-the-field behavior)

“Selfies blamed in fatal plane crash” (a reminder not to take smartphone pictures of yourself while you are piloting a plane)

“Royal Caribbean cruise cut short by illness” (of 200 passengers and crew members)

There is no shortage of good news, of course. I’ve discovered that in more than 40 years in the news business. Unfortunately, a person too often has to dig to discover good — or wholesome — news.

The reality of the current age is that news consumers are attracted to news of failure, catastrophe or acts of dishonesty. And particular media focus on giving those people what they want. The result is reporting — or commentary — that borders on the salacious, the shocking, the juicy or whatever.

In some ways, this is reflected in social media now that anyone can disseminate any information she or he chooses without regard for checking the veracity of details or whether an event even happened. Not everyone abuses such communication opportunities, but too many do.

Checking facts takes time and is hard work. Some who like immediate communication simply do not take the time. This can be true not only of John Q. Citizen but “professional” media outlets, too.

Wholesome stories are so unusual that they frequently go viral. This suggests people are hungry for them and welcome a break from the juicy and unwholesome fare that seems to dominate the news.

A story about a 3- or 4-year-old who phones 911 when a parent is in medical distress and is then credited with an action that saved Mommy’s life tends to linger online and on news pages. When national calamities leave people homeless, it’s a welcome story to learn of the actions of rescuers and caregivers. When a person overcomes mammoth obstacles to succeed, we are drawn to the story.

Perhaps those who seek such fare need to make their preferences known by cutting back themselves on a diet of “gloom, despair and agony” in their news choices. That might help swing the news pendulum back to reporting that highlights the good that individuals and organizations do.

Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.