Bad News: Negative Headlines Get Much More Attention


That news mantra “If it bleeds, it leads” is all our fault.

People who are in the news business, as well as hacks-turned-flacks like yours truly, understand this unfortunate aspect of consumer cravings. People who just watch, read or listen to the news hate this.

The ironic thing is, according to this telling study by Outbrain, it’s all their fault. In short, negative headlines get more attention — much more — than positive headlines. Find out how after the jump…

“Negative superlatives.”

That’s what this new study discovered, or really confirmed, what works in the news business. “Never,” “Bad” or “Worst” works much better for circulation and ratings than touchy-feely words like “Always” and “Best.” Quit your complaining all you “I wish there was more positive news stories” people. This is on you.


Look at that: Negative superlatives work 30 percent better at getting your attention than positive ones. The average click-through rate on headlines with negative superlatives was a staggering 63 percent higher than that of their positive counterparts.

That’s content marketing, folks. If there were really that many people who hated all the negative news out there, the numbers would show it. That’s not the case.

  • “The worst economic dip in 30 years.”
  • “Unemployment numbers have never been lower.”
  • “Congressional approval ratings have never been worse.” (Check it, a double negative … and it works.)

This is what hits the hot buttons of news consumers. By nature, people are generally negative. Don’t think so? Gossip much? Of course you do. Do people gossip about how great the boss is? Here’s another example: When was the last time you were eating somewhere and called the manager over to compliment your server instead of complain? Answer: You haven’t.

If you still have pause about this study, wait until tomorrow. We’ll see about the traffic on this post. Until then, enjoy the car wrecks, drive-by shootings and typical bad mojo on your evening news, kids.