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Some news is good news

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I am beginning to feel like a freak among journalists. Good or bad,
my reporting is the product of hours of questions, fact-hunting and
often-times editorial debate. Yet, despite this rigour, every day
we receive emails from people asking, or even instructing, us to
publish their press release on our sites.

It is frustrating to send the same response each time: that we do not just publish press releases, but we report on the news. But why the confusion?

What news reporting means is that we speak to those involved to gain a better understanding of the situation, digging deeper and asking questions that go far beyond the bare-faced promotional message of a press release. Over time, our journalists build up a level of knowledge about the particular sector of the industry they cover, so they can place this latest piece of news in a wider context.

For example, last week DSM Nutritional Products issued a press release announcing the launch of a new vegetarian version of its beta-carotene ingredient. In itself, that is interesting to formulators who might have been casting about for that very thing for months.

But when you start to ask why they have launched it - what market need they have identified, and whether any of their competitors have rolled out a similar product - then you realise that a whole new market in non-animal ingredients has sprung up out of animal-related food scares like BSE and bird 'flu.

Suddenly it becomes a piece that appeals to a much broader slice of our readership base. It may even be picked up by consumers surfing though Google for information on vegetarian issues.

So, when all these discussions and leg work are going on behind the scenes, why do people confuse us with a press release publishing service on a daily basis?

The reason is that we publish good news as well as bad.

Open any newspaper on any given day, and you will immediately see five stories of murder, bombings, bankruptcy, political rows, and companies suing each other left, right and centre.

In the health section, it is even more depressing as the news there strikes a personal chord. That is where you'll find out that some scientists conducted study that seems to show the vitamin pill you take religiously each day is of no use whatsoever, or even that it could do some people harm. Or that an ingredient commonly used in foods could give you cancer - if you ate a truckload every day for ten years.

It paints a pretty grim picture of the world, but not necessarily a balanced one.

But when did you last buy a paper that led with the headline: 'Food preservative ends liver death risk from nuts'?

Or 'Generation X records best nutrition ever'?

Much as we might bemoan the state of the world, the simple fact is that bad news sells papers, good news does not.

So when a publisher comes along that is prepared to report on the good as well as the bad, it makes some people think that we fill our pages with promotional messages put out by companies; that a positive spin on an article can be bought; and that we have no editorial judgement.

Of course, we are just as ready to publish bad news when bad news happens, and we don't pull any punches. Last week an exclusive story on FoodNavigator.com about a new development by an Indian company that may devalue Tate and Lyle's intellectual property on sucralose was cited by four national newspapers in the UK after it caused the sugar giant's shares to drop on the London Stock Exchange.

The day Tate and Lyle puts out that kind of story in a press release is the day I will accept that there is no need for journalists in this world and shut down my computer for the very last time.

As for sometimes reporting a company's initiative as positive, I'm sure it's the only ethical thing to do. It's a matter of fact that sometimes news is good. And the serious endeavour of getting to the facts, and setting them accurately in context, is our idea of news reporting.

So, as my journalists' fingers hover expectantly over the keyboard, itching to get down to more gutsy, relevant reporting in 2006, you can expect lots of it. And some of it will be good news.

Now, enough of the self-promoting hype on DecisionNews Media. I am on deadline.

Jess Halliday is editor of NutraIngredients.com and NutraIngredients-USA.com. Over the last decade she has worked in print, broadcast and online media in both Europe and the United States.

If you would like to comment on this article, please contact Jess Halliday​.

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