Does the media consider death and tragedy to be "good for business?"

I get the cynical impression that the media almost rejoices when there’s a school shooting or plane crash or tsunami or genocide or some other tragedy because it gives them “something to work with” - something to write and talk about and keep busy about for days. A bonanza for ratings and readership.
Can anyone with direct experience in the industry confirm or refute this?

Since this is IMHO, not GQ, I can give you my anecdotal evidence: my cousin is a producer for CNN here in DC, he openly jokes about tragedy and missing white girl syndrome being good for ratings while acknowledging how horrible it all is. Basically, he’s a smart guy with two kids who is pretty far down a career path that isn’t quite what he thought it would be.

It all came home to him during the Navy Yard shooting in DC; all hell was breaking loose and it wasn’t yet clear what was going on. There were all kinds of crazy stories about teams of gunmen roaming the area; his daughter was in a kindergarten that was right across from the Navy Yard. The irony was not lost on him.

It may be apocryphal, but there used to be an old newspaperman’s adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

The ratings go up, but I suspect at least some reporters like writing about things that are really important, that will be remembered, that might get them a Pulitzer.
Dan Rather rose to prominence thanks to the JFK assassination, but I doubt he was happy it happened.

Dirty Laundry by Don Henley

I was down in Mississippi after Katrina and was staying in a group home while helping people. One family who had owned a home down by the seaside which now was totally wiped out told me a story. They were spending the day combing the area looking for anything that might be theirs and a reporter came by and interviewed them. Now thing was the family wasnt really upset by this. They had taken all valuables and personal items and were going to get a nice healthy insurance settlement check to rebuild. BUT the reporter wanted to see tragedy, crying, drama, and tears and kept asking all these questions about their “loss” with questioning like this:

Reporter: “Oh, you must feel TERRIBLE”.
Family: “Nope, not really, we are already thinking about our new house”.

When she failed to get the response she was hoping for, and would look good for the cameras, they went away seeking someone else.

As I understand it, no. What media looks for are places and times that are “event-rich.”

The classic driver of news programs is “fuzz and wuzz” (cop doings and dead bodies).

Feel-good stories are fine for occasional contrast, but catastrophe and doom are what keep up the ratings.

Few will tune in to local news based on a promo saying “Fine weather expected to continue the rest of the week”, but “Severe storms pummel western states, will they strike our area?” is the type of teaser that attracts viewers.

The “Greasy Bird Index” where there is an oil spill. Yes.

Oil spill I was involved with there was a shot of a pair of very blackened (originally white) birds that were the standard image representing the spill for all news stories for days. The biologists working on the aftermath of the oil spill were puzzled because they hadn’t actually found any oiled birds. They eventually (not without some cross-examination) tracked down the source of the shots: they were birds that hung out at a coal mine and would get grubby with coal dust.

The whole “if it bleeds, it leads” isn’t apocrypha. Most news outlets thrive on drama and conflict because they’re attention-getting and not boring. It doesn’t matter how trivial or irrelevant the story; if it’s dramatic or involves conflict, it’s going to be on the local news or in the paper. No one wishes for tragedy to happen, but when it does, it’s milked for all it’s worth.

That said, reporters who tend to cover these types of stories tend to have a dark sense of humor, and/or they burn out and wind up teaching or in public relations or some other field where they don’t have to deal with it.

Just a data point but the MD of a major newspaper here in Australia told me that the a major regional plane disappearance rocketed their online traffic. He wasn’t happy it had happened, but he knew at the same time it was good for business.

The classic news maxim is “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Well, yeah. If there wasn’t death or tragedy, there would literally be no “news”. It would just be “nothing happening”.

Do doctors get excited when someone gets sick? Do aid workers get excited when there is a disaster? Do police get excited when there is a crime wave? Lots of people have jobs that get busier or more interesting when bad stuff happens. I think most people develop the ability to sympathize with the human suffering involved, while also keeping a professional approach to the work ahead.

That said, it’s not always easy. People who work day to day with tragedy are pretty well known for developing coping devices of varying degrees of healthiness and a liberal dose of dark humor.

News is a commodity that networks are trying to sell. Every network or TV station wants you to tune into them for your news, therefore it has to be packaged in such a way to get you to do that. Sex sells, so does violence and mayhem. These days networks try too hard to manufacture news rather than just report it. That why certain stories…especially ones with alleged discrimination involved…get aired over and over and over and over. It keeps people stirred up. News outlets are really big on hype.