What is the news? For many, it’s considered to be notable information on current events. There are thousands of events happening daily, of which only a select few are considered ‘newsworthy’. These stories are told about society and its participants to help us make sense of the world, and in turn have an influence on our opinions and beliefs. The news plays a powerful role in providing information that we inescapably consume. One of the most trusted roles of the news is to connect us to world events that we are unable to experience first-hand, as well as reflect upon events we bear witness to.
As a regular reader of the news, I found that my opinions and beliefs were becoming cynical, distrusting and perhaps even paranoid at times, due largely to the relentless focus on problems, and continuous depiction of humanity at its worst. When I could no longer bear to hear one more bit of bad news I knew that the news industry was lacking something.
A significant number of people switch off from the news altogether, citing its depressing nature as the cause. I was tempted by this option but rather than succumb to ‘ignorance is bliss’, I sought out positive news stories to keep me connected with current affairs.
What began as emotional relief became something quite inspiring. I became excited about the world; its possibilities and the creative initiatives that were making it a better place day by day.
It was the realisation that the news produced such a strong emotional experience for me that led me to start a master’s degree in positive psychology. I sought to understand the psychological impact of the news and to understand what contributes to the flourishing and optimal functioning of us as individuals.
Never before have our minds had so much influence on our happiness as now, when we live in an information-based world with an increasingly virtual existence. This led me to look at the information stream we absorb and the consequences this has.
There has been an extensive amount of research to suggest that the news media is predominantly negative and has become increasingly so over the past three decades. This one-sided account of reality can lead people to feel disempowered, depressed, isolated, paranoid and unable to appropriately assess risk.
The reverse can be true for positive news stories. News stories that focus on solutions, achievements, progress and peace-building can lead people to feel inspired and energised. By becoming aware of ways in which individuals and communities flourish, hope and possibility are created. These stories provide tangible examples of success that can be emulated, enabling the reader to feel empowered and aware of their own potential.
My argument is not to discredit the value of negative news as it serves an important role in holding power to account and shining a light on many of the world’s ills, forcing them on to the public agenda. But, there is a need to address the potentially harmful psychological effects of excessive negativity. This excess is not tackled by reducing the number of negative news stories but instead by increasing the number of positive news stories told.
Positive and negative news stories should not compete but co-exist. Positive news stories are not secondary concerns only to be recognised in the absence of problems. We need to notice the world’s achievements alongside its failings in order to report on and understand the world more accurately. In this case, media institutions should report on strength as it does weakness, successes as it does failures, human excellence as it does human corruption and scandal, solutions as it does problems, and progress as it does recession.