I became a journalist to make a difference—but how to do so when the industry struggles to stay afloat in turbulent seas and is increasingly seen as negative? Journalism has to compete with the limitless information and distractions of the online world, what I see as a chaotic circus with too many simultaneous acts. To compete, news organisations have rushed to fill the gaps with salacious stories meant to attract audience attention. Only it’s backfiring.
Journalism often focuses on negative topics because human beings are fascinated with drama, having evolved by identifying potential threats over millennia. We are geared towards perceiving danger and overcoming it, which neuropsychologists have coined the brain’s negativity bias, so it’s unsurprising the news spotlights death, conflict, tension, and anything that plucks our emotional strings.
The great irony is social media is geared towards the exact opposite: highlighting the glamorous highs, beauty and triumphs of life, even though they are frequently simulated or fake. Interestingly, we tend to forward positive material and stories via social media, yet our news-reading habits remain geared towards negative information. It’s just our wiring.
But people find the news depressing. Even before COVID, a survey from the American Psychological Association found more than half of Americans said the news causes them stress, and many claimed they suffered from anxiety, fatigue, or sleep loss as a result. There’s only so much fear, cruelty, despair and violence anyone can take before disengaging. Creating positive news might seem the obvious solution, but that’s far too simple. Online Russian newspaper The City Reporter experimented with publishing only good news for one day and reported losing 66% of its readership.
What’s clear is people yearn for information that informs, stimulates and alerts us to the complex conditions of the world around us, not a sugary, feel-good version of things. This is why Constructive Journalism, a relatively recent trend, is paving the way—move over fluffy animals and babies, it’s got to go beyond cute and say something. Constructive Journalism offers forward-looking news that focuses on visionary people making a difference in their field, or new research offering answers to seemingly intractable problems. Huff Post’s Impact section, Positive News or BBC’s People Fixing the World podcast are good examples, flagging stories about human creativity, ingenuity, and determination despite the obstacles that face us. These publications don’t cover up what’s wrong with the world, instead they emphasise what’s being done—or could be done— to make it right.
The bottom line of my blog post is this: when the news gets too negative, we check out; when it stays positive (but not too bubbly or fluffy), we engage. And getting involved and engaging in what makes us tick is exactly where we can make a difference. For me, that’s disseminating ideas that trigger people to think. What’s it for you?
On that note, please see these links if the topic of Constructive Journalism interests you: