Earlier this month, BBC Radio 4 aired a programme entitled good news is no news, in which former news editor Charlie Beckett explored the unrelenting negativity in the mainstream news agenda, preoccupied with violent crime, human accident, misfortune and disaster. Although this comes as no great surprise, the programme raised interesting questions about the effects such negativity can have on people and whether it was time to consider a more positive approach to news.
The NHS is no stranger to negative media coverage, with stories about failing hospitals, A&E crisis, missed targets and poor patient care hitting the headlines on a daily basis. Those stories are newsworthy and need reporting. However they offer a very biased view and are not representative of what is happening in the health service as a whole. After all, Britain’s healthcare system ranked top out of 11 of the world’s wealthiest countries, following a far-reaching study by the Commonwealth Fund conducted last year. NHS PR should be far more positive than it is.
The BBC programme also argued that all this unrelenting negativity of mainstream news can have a psychological impact on people, divesting them of their agency, making them feel helpless and inducing a retreat from the wider world. I can certainly identify with this and must admit that I have moments where I will have a news blackout for days on end, as I can no longer face hearing more bad news.
I can only imagine how hard-working, dedicated NHS workers must feel like when faced with such negativity and criticism of the health service. It must be utterly demoralising.
So what can be done to address this imbalance in the way the NHS is portrayed in the news?
A “positive news” movement has emerged in the US and is spreading across the globe, as an antidote to the barrage of negativity experienced in the mainstream media, with the creation of publications such as Positive News, GoodNewsNetwork, or the Huffington Post dedicated Good News section.
Although some of those publications are full of sentimental animal stories amongst more inspirational articles, it has led to mainstream media such as the Daily Mail, well known for its sensationalist, scaremongering headlines, to question the way it is reporting the news to ensure a more balanced view of the world.
Taking a solutions-based approach to the news is also a good way to address issues rather than just reporting on negative stories. A very good example of this is the “Challenge Top Down Change” campaign that was launched by HSJ together with its sister publication Nursing Times and NHS Improving Quality, with the aim to identify the best ways to help the NHS drive real and sustainable change.
Because technology is having such an important role to play in ensuring sustainable change in the NHS, technology vendors have a major role to play in helping NHS organisations promote their achievements. Their PR and marketing team can help ensure positive coverage in industry publications and beyond.
As research suggests that people tend to share positive stories on social media, there is a real opportunity to spread the good word. This is the aim of the Big up the NHS campaign, set-up by well-respected clinician, Steve Smith, as an attempt to reverse the negative spiral and improve the NHS for staff and patients. Initially using Twitter to promote good stories about the NHS, the campaign is now using other channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube, and gaining momentum.
As nurses, doctors, and NHS organisations are becoming increasingly involved in social media, this presents a fantastic opportunity to engage with the wider public and present a more positive view of the NHS. Nurses can share their views from the frontline with friends on Facebook for example. Patients, of course, have also a role to play in sharing their good experiences as well as the bad ones.
The truth of the matter is that bad news sells, even if some publications are now exploring a more positive way to report what is going on in the world. The good news though, is that the people no longer just rely on mainstream media to inform themselves, and are turning to social media as another valued source.
So without appearing evangelical, it’s time for the NHS and all other interested stakeholders to start spreading the good news by taking advantage of the fact that in today’s digital world, everyone can become their own publisher. Good news may be news after all!