Original post:  http://bearlamp.com.au/no-negative-press-agreement/

What is a no negative press agreement?

A no negative press agreement binds a media outlet's consent to publish information provided by a person with the condition that they be not portrayed negatively by the press.

Why would a person want that?

In recognising that the press has powers above and beyond every-day people to publish information and spread knowledge and perspective about an issue that can be damaging to an individual.  An individual while motivated by the appeal of publicity, is also concerned about the potential damage caused by negative press.

Every person is the hero of their own story, from one's own perspective they performed actions that were justified and motivated by their own intention and worldview, no reasonable person would be able to tell their story (other than purposefully) in which they are spun as the negative conspirator of a plot, actively causing negative events on the world for no reason.

Historically, humans have been motivated to care more about bad news than good news, for reasons that expand on the idea that bad news might ring your death (and be a cause of natural selection) and good news would be irrelevant for survival purposes.  Today we are no longer in that historic period, yet we still pay strong attention to bad news.  It's clear that bad news can personally effect individuals - not only those in the stories, but others experiencing the bad news can be left with a negative worldview or motivated to be upset or distraught.  In light of the fact that bad news is known to spread more than good news, and also risks negatively affecting us mentally, we are motivated to choose to avoid bad news, both in not creating it, not endorsing it and not aiding in it's creation.

The binding agreement is designed to do several things:

  • protect the individual from harm
  • reduce the total volume of negative press in the world
  • decrease the damage caused by negative press in the world
  • bring about the future we would rather live in
  • protect the media outlet from harming individuals

Does this limit news-maker's freedom to publish?

That is not the intent.  On the outset, it's easy to think that it could have that effect, and perhaps in a very shortsighted way it might have that effect.  Shortly after the very early effects, it will have a net positive effect of creating news of positive value, protecting the media from escalating negativity, and bringing about the future we want to see in the world.  If it limits media outlets in any way it should be to stop them from causing harm.  At which point any non-compliance by a media entity will signal the desire to act as agents of harm in the world.

Why would a media outlet be an agent of harm?  Doesn't that go against the principles of no negative press?

While media outlets (or humans), set out with the good intentions of not having a net negative effect on the world, they can be motivated by other concerns.  For example, the value of being more popular, or the direction from which they are paid for their efforts (for example advertising revenue).  The concept of competing commitment, and being motivated by conflicting goals is best covered by Scott under the name moloch.  

The no negative press agreement is an attempt to create a commons which binds all relevant parties to action better than the potential for a tragedy.  This commons has a desire to grow and maintain itself, and is motivated to maintain itself.  If any media outlets are motivated to defect, they are to be penalised by both the other press and the public.

How do I encourage a media outlet to comply with no negative press?

Ask them to publish a policy with regard to no negative press.  If you are an individual interested in interacting with the media, and are concerned with the risks associated with negative press, you can suggest an individual binding agreement in the interim of the media body designing and publishing a relevant policy.

I think someone violated the no negative press policy, what should I do?

At the time of writing, no one is bound by the concept of no negative press.  Should there be desire and pressure in the world to motivate entities to comply, they are more likely to comply.  To create the pressure a few actions can be taken:

  • Write to media entities on public record and request they consider a no negative press policy, outline clearly and briefly your reasons why it matters to you.
  • Name and shame media entities that fail to comply with no negative press, or fail to consider a policy.
  • Vote with your feet - if you find a media entity that fails to comply, do not subscribe to their information and vocally encourage others to do the same.

Meta: this took 45mins to write.

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12 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:47 AM

bring about the future we would rather live in

Attacking the ability of journalists to uncover misdeads of powerful individuals seems to be the opposite. Investigative journalism is under enough attacks as it is.

Shortly after the very early effects, it will have a net positive effect of creating news of positive value, protecting the media from escalating negativity, and bringing about the future we want to see in the world.

The future I want to live in isn't one where the 4th estage can't fights against misdeeds by powerful people.

powerful people.

interesting you say that because I suggested that the individual was not powerful and the media was.

Who's bankrupt? Peter Thiel or Gawker?

What were Peter Thiel's uncovered misdeeds? Being gay?

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Where do you think I made a claim that those exist?

Name and shame media entities that fail to comply with no negative press, or fail to consider a policy.

Ironically, this suggestion is precisely the kind of "negative press" you ostensibly want to eradicate.

You haven't nearly done enough to explain why so called negative press is bad, nor what exactly it is. Many good things have resulted from a negative exposé published by the media.

You are right. The concept needs more work.

Agreed. I think, as written, it's extremely difficult to read as anything but a straw man of itself. I had to pause several times and steel man the concepts, because as written they were just so obviously a bad idea that I couldn't picture you having possibly intended it that way.

Specific examples of my confusion:

  • It wasn't clear to me until halfway through the article who this contract would be between. (Papers and readers, I assume?) I initially interpreted it as a contract between, say, a politician and someone wishing to interview the politician. Widespread use and acceptance of this sort of agreement seems like it would be a net negative. There do seem to be a few positive use cases though. Imagine Peter Singer agreeing to be interviewed about the trolley problem or something, on the condition that the interviewer sign an agreement. Such an agreement might prevent the interviewer from publishing the interview unless Singer reviewed the article before hand and said ok. This would limit the temptation to sensationalize. Perhaps these agreements should be made on a per article basis, so it’s still possible to publish negative things on politics.

  • That brings me to the phrase “no negative press agreements”. This sounds like an agreement not to publish anything with negative emotional valence. No bad news. No scandals. No reporting on wars or earthquakes, and maybe not even bad weather. Obviously this isn’t what you mean. I think you are saying not to report on shark attacks, cop shows, and things that make people terrified for no statistically good reason. Or perhaps not to publish any story which has negative expected utility according to some utilitarian framework. If either of these are what you mean, perhaps a better term would be “fear-mongering free journalism” or “no hit-piece agreements” or “no shock-piece agreement” or something. I don’t really like any of those, but I’d have to think about a better name for it for a while. It’d be nice to have an intuitive name that conveys the approximate meaning succinctly. If that’s not possible, maybe a deliberately nonobvious phrase, so people don’t mistakenly think they understand, and unwittingly strawman the idea . (See the purple ball thing. Also, apparently I’m really bad at doing that. EDIT: Also, apparently Strikethrough syntax in markdown doesn't work on LW. So much for that joke.)

  • It would also be helpful to start the piece with a statement of the problem you are trying to solve with this. Perhaps a couple examples of “negative” journalism and a couple “positive” examples, to illustrate what the differences are which you are trying to highlight. Then, try and construct a precise rule of phrase which precisely divides the two groups with as little ambiguity as possible. The more objective this rule is, the better, but that’s a difficult task. The thinking would probably take much longer than 45 min, though, unless you've already done most of it.

Please don’t take any of this as discouragement, though. I think you have a core idea in there which might be useful. I’ve given some thought to this sort of thing, but as a browser add-on that acted like an add-blocker, rather than as a contract with news agencies. This might be further inside the Overton window, too.

Also, perhaps you/we could ask the mods of a couple big subreddits to try various forms of the rule out for a month, by filtering out various definitions of “negative” news. Some already approximate this unintentionally, by disallowing sensational titles or certain “low quality” content. This should give a little empirical data on what works and what doesn’t, before anyone suggests this to any news outlets. It’s really hard to get entrenched powers to change, let alone change twice.

I have literally offered this. When writing for Better Investing Magazine I interviewed a company that one of my students was working for about some project (which I think involved e-payments) my student was working on. During the interview the person I was talking with inadvertently said something that could have been interpreted negatively and he paused. I said something like "don't worry I would never write a story that would hurt my student" and the interview went on. This kind of thing might be commonplace.

I don't think you did anything like what's proposed in the OP. You didn't form a contract that limited your views.

In addition there's a huge difference between using information that of someone who shares information that's tactically bad from them to share and generally not saying anything bad about the person.

When giving interviews about QS to respectable journalist my experience was that they generally operated under a codex where I could say "please don't publish information XY, treat it as deep background (my father spoke about "under 3" for information like this when he spoke with journalists). On the other hand no respectable journalist would have accepted an agreement that binds them to write positively about QS.

Additionally I was quoted in a negative article about QS by a journalist with whom I never spoke. If you step out into the public debate than you have to be okay with negative articles.

*My experience with media is mostly German media. Norms for the press might differ in the US or Australia.

This is pretty much just the Comics Code, yeah? It isn't going to fly in 2016.

I think when the target of the agreement is a spin approach or topic that should just be avoided I think the common has a already established name - a taboo.

It would also seem that it would be against the journalists integrity to participate in such in a big extent. If a laweyr would be only allowed to sue if the verdict would be "not guilty" many would not take such an ararngement to fullfill proper legal investigation. But then again if you phrase it as a plea bargain it sounds a lot better. To the extent I would view this positively is that it woudl make a person willing to share details on a hot topic issue they would not otherwise share. It better for the issue to come out even if it accompanies a spin. It would also ensure that there ared atleast somen steelmans in the discussion getting space. But by large precommitment to opinion I see as a thing wrong with press, not something to be strived for.