Rack of international newspapers
Image credit: Gary Thomson

Something terrible and possibly violent happens to a family somewhere in the country. News sources report this in emotionally-charged detail. It is tragic, but is reading this kind of thing in our interests?

I’ve heard many people justify their avid consumption of news saying they need to stay informed about the world. That sounds reasonable enough, but how well do news sources inform people? By that I mean to provide accurate and relevant information. Much of news media is competing for the attention of readers and viewers, so tends towards entertainment or sensationalism. This giving of priority to noise and attention can have some unfortunate side-effects.

People justify their avid consumption of news by saying they need to stay informed about the world.

I know we often have a macabre fascination with real-life horror. Not just the horror, but drama and outrage. If these things weren’t in some way captivating, then they probably wouldn’t be reported at all. It’s easy to become slightly obsessed with negative news, particularly while the world grapples with the effects of COVID-19.

What’s more, we probably identify more strongly with stories that feature the experiences of a small group of people. The trouble is that it doesn’t help us to understand the world as a whole. When accompanied by sound analysis and reliable research, such personal accounts can give a human perspective on some otherwise dry topic. But without that research and analysis, they’re useless in helping us “stay informed about the world”.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this focus on small scale horror and drama can be harmful to people’s mental health and see the world as a more dangerous place than it is. It isn’t a huge leap to suggest that, over time, it might make for a more selfish, fearful society.

I’m not saying we should avoid all bad news, rather that we should avoid the irrelevant, negative, sensationalist stories.

I’m not saying we should avoid all bad news, rather that we should avoid the irrelevant, negative, sensationalist stories. Hearing about someone who lost their whole family to a virus doesn’t help anyone. Learning about what individuals need to do to protect themselves and others during a pandemic is useful and important. The latter story may not be cheery news, but is at least relevant and not sensational.

I’m now trying to make a conscious effort not to click past headlines about individual tragedies. If a news source provides too much irrelevant noise, it’s easy enough to switch to another. If traditional news sources continue to fail you, there are alternatives with a refreshingly-positive take on the news.

Yes! Magazine (US)
Through rigorous reporting on the positive ways communities are responding to social problems and insightful commentary that sparks constructive discourse, YES! Media inspires people to build a more just, sustainable, and compassionate world.
https://www.yesmagazine.org/

Positive.News (UK)
We are pioneers of ‘constructive journalism’ – a new approach in the media, which is about rigorous and relevant journalism that is focused on progress, possibility, and solutions. We publish daily online and Positive News magazine is published quarterly in print.
https://www.positive.news/

Good News Network (US)
Since 1997, millions of people have turned to the Good News Network® as an antidote to the barrage of negativity experienced in the mainstream media.
https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org

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