Good news, bad news

Published on
March 28, 2010

We all know that a good news story doesn’t get anywhere in the mainstream press, and that sensationalism grabs headlines. But why is this?

A recent editorial in the Longliner by Jenny Fyall, environment correspondent for The Scotsman, one of Scotland’s main dailies, examined why seafood companies struggle to get good news into the media. Her argument was that while seafood is interesting to those involved, it does not produce great news stories, because it is removed from the day-to-day lives of the masses.

“It must be relevant and it must pass the ‘pub test,’” she wrote.

This means the information must be intriguing enough to warrant discussion with mates over a pint and to excite, shock or amuse, rather than make eyes glaze over. “The word ‘sustainability’ can send people to sleep, but what are the consequences of overfished seafood?” asked Fyall. The trouble is, by turning a story on its head, it can move from a “sustainability” item to a “no-fish-left-in-the-sea” sensation.

But a couple of things happened last week that convinced me of the importance of opinion formers when trying to spread good news.

The first occasion was working with children in an Edinburgh school, promoting the health benefits of eating sustainable seafood for the government-backed “Eat More Fish” campaign. For many of the children, this was their first experiencing eating seafood.

I quickly learned that if the “cool kid” — the main opinion former in the class — disliked seafood, then few wanted to try the samples presented to them. However, if the “cool kid” thought it was great, then all the samples disappeared. In one of the classes, the “cool kid” was Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s fisheries minister. The children were keen to follow the example of such an important visitor, and the entire class asked for more samples. It made for good press, and, hopefully, the general public will also follow his lead and heed the “Eat More Fish” message.

The second occasion affected me on a more personal level. My company has lodged an application for permission to develop an offshore rope-grown mussel farm off the south coast of England. The message we have put out is that just 1 percent of the local bay is needed to increase seafood production in the area by 100 percent. In the process, we will create much-needed local employment and bring economic benefits to the community. There will also be benefits to the environment and juvenile fish populations through the creation of a large floating reef-like structure. To me, support for this should be a no-brainer.

However, a local radio host made much of the fact that we are a Scottish company moving into England. It was ironic, considering that I was born, raised, educated and worked in the area for many years before moving to Scotland.

However, the Scottish tag has since been picked up by TV and newspapers, and there seems to be a local perception that the kilted hordes are on their way to put everyone out of work and wreck their livelihoods. This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Which all goes to show that bad news, whether real or perceived, always grabs headlines. It’s why stories titled “Fish stock collapses” rather than “Fish stock increases” will always win the day, regardless of the truth.

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