The GOOD News is GOOD News
Increasing numbers of news providers are realising that in this grisly world, readers want to feel a sense of hope Political tumult, crime, terrorist attacks, poverty, tragedy: news always has a habit of erring on the grim side – and never more so perhaps than in the summer of 2016.
But gradually an increasing number of news businesses – including the Guardian – are investing in positive or constructive news operations, journalism that focuses on solving problems and encouraging audiences to take action.
Why? Where does this tendency come from? And more importantly, does it have a different impact on readers, and journalists, jaded by all the appalling things that happen in the world.
News has long centred on negative things because it engages our fear reflex and hence is generally more attention-grabbing, according to Tom Stafford, lecturer in psychology and cognitive science at the University of Sheffield.
“It suggests there is something worth worrying about – something which might mean we should change course, or react to in some way,” he said. “That’s why we’re attentive to bad news, it means things aren’t going well, so we might have to act.”
But too much bad news leaves the consumer with “a choice between perpetual vigilance (and anxiety), or tuning it out”, added Stafford.
“The industry’s focus on bad news is often well intentioned, stemming from an important commitment to being society’s watchdog,” he said. “However, for the news media as a whole this mentality has gone too far.
“An important factor in what is driving the bad news bias is that we are hard-wired to pay attention to threats and alarming information, and the media capitalises on this.”
People still read bad news, as the figures for international news websites show, but there are encouraging signs of an appetite for constructive or solutions-focused journalism.
Citing several examples where audiences have responded with donations to a cause or to the launch of campaigns on an issue raised in a story.
“Research by Dr Denise Baden, an associate professor at Southampton Business School, the University of Southampton, has found that the more negatively people feel after consuming bad news, the less likely they are to voice an opinion or take action to improve the world around them.”
A study by the Solutions Journalism Network and the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas into how audiences respond to solutions-based journalism suggested that, at the end of such an article, readers were more likely to seek out further coverage by news organisations that produced this type of reporting.
Previous attempts by news providers to offer more positive coverage have faltered because of a tendency to treat these stories as purely lighthearted or hero tales.
Writing about solutions and good news actually requires exceptionally high standards. It necessitates extremely sound reporting, research and writing since readers are skeptical and we are working against a longstanding narrative that the world can be a terrible place and the media should cover it as such.
“We of course have a responsibility to report the truth and we can’t discount the reality of the news, but I think we are also helping to normalise the idea that people are generally good in the world. Because they are.”