Do you ever get that feeling of overwhelming hopelessness, the moment you switch off the evening news? Do you get sucked into a state of sadness about the world we live in, without any hope for its future? Does it make you want to ignore the headlines, but leave you guilty for not engaging at the same time? But is there, deep down, a nagging feeling that there must be another side of the story too – one that doesn’t get reported? Then bear with me, because there is good news.
I wondered all of the above when I first started researching the impact of news on our wellbeing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I quickly learned that the news, quite literally, makes us miserable. At best, it leaves us indifferent, but more often than not, it triggers low mood and a passiveness that can even lead to anxiety and depression.
Things got more interesting when I looked into the effects of news about things that were not negative. Stories about progress and possibility, about hope and optimism. It turns out such stories motivate us. They kick us into gear and play into our natural desire to care. As a force for inspiration, the news can, in fact, be hugely powerful. But it requires us to change our media diet radically.
In this book, I show you how. First, by understanding the way in which our current 24-hour news is produced. Who decides what ends up on our front pages and in our social media feeds, and why does it matter in the first place? Next, we uncover a whole parallel universe, beyond what the news industry refers to as the “good news is no news” principle. Combining research from psychology, sociology and journalism with real-life examples, this book makes a compelling case for the greater inclusion of solutions-focused news into our media diet.
This is not a call for us all to be naïve and ignore the negative. Rather, it asks us to not ignore the positive. For every problem, there is someone, somewhere, trying to do something about it. Or at least thinking about what we should be doing about it. Only by including this ‘What Next?’ part of the story will we get to a better place – both in our minds and in the world.
Early in 2017 I experienced the wonderful joy of having my first child, a smiley little girl we called Ariana. Not long after she was born, I was sitting with my mother-in-law, Eva, who told me she worried for Ariana and the world that she is going to have to grow up in. “It is so much more dangerous than when I was young”, she said.
Let’s just take a moment to reflect on that. Eva was a little girl in 1945; she was born into a World War. Not only that, but since then, globally speaking, we have become more prosperous, have better health, better technology, better sanitation, higher IQs, less child mortality, fewer deaths from conflict, fewer homicides and have seen a reduction in overall crime figures. With all of this progress, how could it be that Eva would think that the world is more dangerous than it was 70 years ago?
I have been researching the psychological impact of the news for the last seven years - how it affects us mentally and socially, how it shapes our opinion of the world, and how it influences the way we see ourselves and other people. Eva’s belief that the world is more dangerous than it used to be lies in her perception of the world. This perception is created, not through experience - because the truth is that experientially things have improved - but through hearing stories about the world, stories told to her by the news. Hers is not an uninformed belief, it is an ill-informed one - and an incredibly common one at that.
I once got to the point where I could not bear to hear another news story. I would switch radio stations as soon as I heard the beeps introducing the news bulletin. They sounded to me like alarm bells, warning me that something awful was coming. Some people labelled my decision not to listen to the news as naïve, weak, ignorant or simply a bit extreme. This reaction made me feel that I must be damaged in some way, that there was something in me that was not strong enough or brave enough to see the world in all of its ugly existence.
But in fact I did not - and do not - see the world as ugly. My experience of the world is that it is a remarkable and complex place, filled with adventure, imagination and kindness as well as cruelty, suffering, and injustice. I could understand that the world had its flaws but I did not and could not agree with the picture that I was being given by reading the news.
I came to realise it was not me, but the news industry that was damaged. I have grown tired of reading so many inflammatory headlines charged with opinion over fact and emotion over reason, designed to bolster conflict rather than aid resolution. I began to get cross with other people when they did not understand my frustration with the news, when they jumped to its defence quite forcefully with an unfulfilling argument that “the world is the way it is” and no real insight as to why these are the only stories we are told about.
The fact that people were not questioning of the news made me want to dig deeper. I started asking questions such as: why is there a massive preference for negative news? For what purpose do journalists report scandal? Is it just to hold the perpetrators to account or does it become a deterrent for others to refrain from similar immoral activity? Is this deterrent an intentional or an unintentional consequence, if it is one at all? Why do journalists report on war crimes? Is it to hold the perpetrators to account? Or are they just reporting what they see without intentional consequence? Does the media create or reflect opinion? Is the media a commercial enterprise that is led by profitability or a noble one led by integrity? Does it report news that is in the interest of the public or in the interest of its own success?
If anyone had told me we’d reach two-thirds of our funding target within the first week, I would not have believed them – yet here we are! Thank you so much to all 130 of you for supporting me right from the start. It means so much to me to have so many of you on board! It’s given the campaign such flying start and it is making a real difference!
At the same time of course, I am realistic about…
Wow, wow, wow! I’d hoped I would be able to write to you with some (fittingly) good news after the first day of campaigning, but I could not have imagined this! Thanks to you pioneering backers, we managed to smash through 45% of the target in the first 24 hours. Together, you’ve pledged over £5,000 towards the first print run! This is beyond my wildest expectations and I can only say a heartfelt…
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