Good news can be big news, but the little pieces of good news often slip through the cracks, unnoticed.
Several conversations I had yesterday gave me a chance to articulate why that is, and I wanted to share them with you.
While I was interviewing Battalion Chief Don McPherson about the April 11 fire in the 200 block of Drexel Avenue in Ventura that seriously burned one man and destroyed a home, he told me a detail that surprised me: A fire captain who was fighting the fire fell through the roof of the home while it was burning (and while authorities were searching the home for people they believed might be trapped). The captain got stuck on a rafter, and another firefighter pulled him out just seconds before flames burst through the hole in the roof. It also turned out that no one was still in the house at the time.
If a firefighter had been seriously injured or killed in the blaze, that would have been huge news because of the human tragedy, the rarity and the heroic context of the incident.
The fact that that didn't happen is great news, but we never heard about it.
That's one of the cruxes of this conundrum: when bad stuff happens, we usually hear about it and it's big news, and when bad stuff is narrowly avoided, we often don't hear about it, so it goes generally unnoticed.
Even if we do hear about potential bad things that don't happen, they would be smaller news than if something tragic did happen. Take the firefighter example: If someone had told me when I wrote the original story about the house fire that a firefighter narrowly escaped injury, that might have been one dramatic angle in the story but it would probably be little more, because it's a story about something bad that could have happened but didn't. Maybe such a story would lead to another story about firefighter safety, but it wouldn't be the huge story it would be if the firefighter was actually hurt.
Interestingly enough, I heard two other good news stories yesterday about potential bad things that didn't materialize.
When I was talking to Chief McPherson, he brought up a school bus crash that happened the previous day. The California Highway Patrol reported that the bus overturned when the driver swerved to avoid a collision and hit an embankment, but the driver was not injured and no one else was on board.
Since no one was hurt, I wrote a brief. McPherson told me he responded to that crash and learned that a large number of students had gotten off the bus minutes before the crash. He was thinking about how bad the crash could have been if kids were still on board.
Again, that incident could have been disastrous but wasn't, so it was small news. It would be hard to report on things that didn't happen, and even if we decided it would be appropriate to do so, it would be nearly impossible because of the time involved.
Think about this: My beat, which I cover mostly with one colleague with occasional help from others, includes much of the crime, weather, natural disasters, law enforcement, public safety and accident news in the county. To find out about all the potentially bad things that didn't happen, I would have to spend lots of time thoroughly reporting small incidents that don't turn out to be big issues, which would be basically impossible.
But situations where bad news is avoided are interesting, and potentially important.
Take another example: I wrote another brief yesterday about a truck crash that blocked traffic on Highway 126. Only minor injuries were reported, but as I talked to a CHP sergeant who was on scene, I learned that the accident bore a frightening resemblance to a tragic crash that happened several months ago.
This was the situation: Several trucks and trailers with oil field equipment were parked on the side of Highway 126 in Ventura for repairs. They had safety warning devices out, said Sgt. Joseph Davy of the CHP.
Then a truck carrying U.S. mail drifted onto the shoulder and struck one of the trailers, setting off a chain-reaction. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt.
Hearing about the crash reminded me of a similar accident on Highway 126 that was tragic. On Sept. 4, a truck drifted onto the shoulder of Highway 126 between Santa Paula and Ventura then careened into a group of men doing court ordered community service, killing one and critically injuring another. In that case, a truck was parked behind the crew to protect it, but the truck missed it, hitting the crew instead.
So now that you know a little more about why bad news is usually big news and good news often isn't, I have a suggestion for you: We always appreciate calls about news, be it good or bad. If there's a piece of good news that didn't get reported, it's likely that we never heard about it, so if you want to read more good news, please tell us if you hear about any.
Here are links to the stories I mentioned:
Take care out there,