The ironic, inverted language of newsrooms

The ironic, inverted language of newsrooms

“Newsrooms are the only place where you can expect to hear about a ‘good’ car accident,” I often joke with new interns.

When the return on investment in your work is measured with ratings points or digital analytics, numerical success begins to become synonymous with doing “good work.”

In a news environment, employees are praised and promoted for doing work which yields a larger audience for the business. In my own career, for example, two of my biggest promotions have closely followed coverage on truly horrific events.

  • A few months after the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs, I found myself moving to Denver.
  • My work on the theater shooting trial was a key part of the resume that helped me win the opportunity in Boston.

The only other career path I can think of with a similarly inverted relationship between personal success and public tragedy is criminal prosecution. (In fact, I recall briefly having this conversation with a District Attorney after the trial.)

In a more recent example, stories this week about a truly scary kidnapping case have given our digital platforms a significant boost., a metrics provider, displays messages calling this a “good day” or — if metrics are more than double our average — an “exceptional day.”

But is it really a “good day”?

Late on the night of Dec. 1, a bus carrying families was involved in a crash with a driver who was subsequently accused of being intoxicated. A “mass casualty incident” was declared for the injured passengers.

I worked on this from home into the early hours of Dec. 2, coordinating digital coverage across our various platforms and doing “good work.”

While I was wrapping up, I checked the analytics and decided in a punchy, sleep-deprived state to pose a question on Twitter.

Today, 53 days after that message was sent, it appeared at the top of’s weekly newsletter.

Now, perhaps, you see why I am writing this today.

I will never assert that telling tragic stories cannot be important to our audiences. Nor will I say that we only tell sad stories in this business — Super Bowl coverage exeperience was also an important point on my resume leaving Denver.

Instead, I find that reflecting on the inverted relationship our business can have with tragedy is important to ensure individual journalists are doing it all for the right reasons. As a manager, it is also a reminder that I should put equal emphasis on doing work that is good for our audience and work that is good for our analytics.