The good news and the bad news
For a Jewish audience, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement locally, the rift between the US and Israel, constant tension between Palestinians and Israelis, misconduct by people in power in religious institutions, are all ongoing sagas that could and sometimes do fill the pages of our own Jewish Report and others of our genre.
Numerous articles have been written about the negative effects of negative media and how they create a feeling of hopelessness about a situation. Any economic crisis is a good illustration. When the stock market drops, news coverage of sinking stocks and declining consumer confidence perpetuates the cycle, becoming part of the very reason why the markets continue to drop even further.
Some have theorised that we have a negativity bias in our brains. A study performed at Ohio State University found an increase in neural firing in the brain when people were shown negative images in the news media compared to when they were confronted by positive images.
They found that more information processing was occurring when audiences viewed war and destruction in a country, for example, than when aid workers were seen doing wonderful humanitarian work and rebuilding. The evidence shows that we tend to hold onto the negative imagery rather than the positive.
While a generally held assumption is that the media has a responsibility to report on “bad news” if it is happening, Charlie Beckett, veteran journalist and media professor at the London School of Economics in Britain, asserts that news doesn’t have to be positive or negative and that it is possible to write critically about a negative topic, but still present solutions, empower readers to act, and offer tools to help turn the bad stories into good ones.
Several US news organisations are embracing the idea that positive, solutions-based journalism can still attract a significant audience. The Huffington Post’s “What’s Working” initiative, The Washington Post’s “The Optimist”, The New York Times’ “The Fix” – are all platforms that deliver positive news stories or even negative ones with solutions. And, according to Arianna Huffington, of The Huffington Post, their Good News section has grown considerably and the positive content on their site is shared three times more than the combined average of all their other sections’ share rate.
“If we don’t cover positive stories, ideally with the same relentlessness and the same resources that we cover negative stories, we are basically not giving our readers the full truth,” says Huffington.
In the book, “Raising an Optimistic Child”, therapists Bob Murray and Alicia Fortinberry argue that the most precious gift one can give one’s children is an unwavering sense of optimism by taking control of one’s own emotions and creating a positive, solution-based household.
The book even instructs parents on how to cope with children seeing coverage of traumatic news events on television and tells them to let their children know that despite what they are seeing, their own lives are good and safe.
So too, just as parents have a responsibility to their own families to construct positive narratives about life, journalists have a responsibility to their readers to give them the hard and sad truth, but also the stories of hope, solutions and connection that will inspire and empower them.