It was a Friday morning when I decided to make my point.
At the time, my role as news editor also involved monitoring the comments left under all our online stories.
We’d covered an uplifting story about a sprightly pensioner who’d used his walking stick to tackle robbers who had just raided a bank in a suburban shopping street.
As the raiders fled from his have-a-go-hero attack, they were pursued by a taxi driver who kept them in sight while on the phone to the police via his hands-free.
Our coverage called both of them brave.
A positive story, you might think. Not much there for anyone to take issue with.
Except one reader did. He took exception to our ‘brave’ tag, and questioned whether following armed robbers at a discreet distance for several hundred yards required any degree of courage.
I pointed out that the robbers could have noticed the driver at any time, used their weapons against him, noted his registration number, and found all manner of ways of intimidating him.
It cut no ice with our keyboard warrior.
I wasn’t going to let it lie.
What was it that inspired him to spend his time effectively criticising someone who selflessly stepped in to perform an act of public service? Why was he so keen to have such a glass half-empty outlook on life?
It took a while, but eventually the penny dropped. I invited him to admit he had been mean-spirited. He accepted my invitation. I wished him a lovely weekend. And, silently, punched the air.
My little victory for generosity of spirit came to mind when one of my regional media heroes, Plymouth Herald crime reporter Carl Eve, called out one of his own readers.
The man had sent Carl pictures of a group of police officers having a breakfast break in the city, along with a rant about a looming rise in the share of the council tax being suggested by the area’s police and crime commissioner.
There was an element of history repeating itself, after The Sun carried a similar story about eight officers having bacon sandwiches and coffee in the same area two years ago.
This time, Carl was having none of it.
In a wonderful piece, which has been shared 14,000 times and liked extensively in recent days, he defended the officers he covers, pointing out how rarely they have an opportunity to meet up to discuss their increasingly stressful working lives.
It wasn’t the story the man behind the tip-off was expecting.
But it was the right response from a journalist who has won respect for his thoughtfulness and compassion – as well as a refusal to put up with bullshit.
A few days earlier, Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow had also won praise for calling out rudeness, when he rebuked left-wing Labour MP Richard Burgon for being ‘awfully beastly’ to Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson.
”You’re being awfully beastly.”
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) January 15, 2019
It was a great reversal of roles, as the TV interviewer accused his interviewee of rudeness, and of failing to let someone answer a question.
We took our first years to BBC Birmingham last week, and met Midlands Today editor Rachel Bowering, who is always a great source of wisdom and advice.
She spoke a lot about the importance of constructive journalism – storytelling that helps provide answers to problems, rather than just report on them, or in some cases accentuate them.
The perception of reality in the public becomes overly negative
That’s a movement given new life at the weekend by a man who helped define the hierarchy of news values, Johan Galtung.
In an interview with the Guardian, he expressed concern at the priority given to stories about conflict.
“The perception of reality in the public becomes overly negative,” he said.
“It shapes what people are doing. And it shapes politicians, it makes them negative, instead of putting emphasis on the good in society they want to construct.”
Perhaps interventions such as mine, Carl’s and Jon’s are too rare.
We may have a reputation for cynicism and negativity.
But at times, we can’t hold a snuffed-out candle to our public.
At times, it is journalists who have to show people how to behave.
We should perhaps do it more often.