The media is questioning its negative news focus as journalism diversifies

Claudia Cahalane

Publications such as Positive News are pioneering a more diverse journalism, suggested a BBC Radio 4 programme broadcast on Sunday

A wave of media alternatives focused on presenting a positive, balanced picture of the world are paving the way for a more diverse journalism, while traditional media are questioning old assumptions about what the news should cover.

These were some of the findings of the programme Good News Is No News, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 8 February.

Presenter Charlie Beckett, former editor of Channel 4 News and director of journalism think-tank POLIS, highlighted positive and solution-focused news sections in the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post and the rise of alternatives such as Positive News and ‘slow news’ publication Delayed Gratification, as a challenge to traditional news values.

Beckett said that there is an ingrained belief in mainstream media that news has to be about something broken, violent or disturbing, which “runs so deep that it’s almost the unconscious of the craft.”

“Journalists are questioning the fundamentals of news itself”

But “change is beginning to stir at a deeper level,” he said. “Even the toughest of mainstream newsrooms are aware that the old editorial certainties are being questioned.”

Positive News editor, Seán Dagan Wood, told Beckett he believed that relentless bad news was leaving audiences feeling disempowered.

“We are reaching peak negativity in the news,” he said. “The overall narrative that the media creates is no longer serving us and it’s increasingly at odds with our evolving sense of who we are, what works and what’s possible.”

Former BBC news presenter and Positive News patron Martyn Lewis, who was “vilified” when first calling for positive stories not to be ignored in the news agenda in 1993, told Beckett that his job had been “on the line” as a result of going against the status quo.

But with the industry turned upside down by digital technology, now “journalists are questioning the fundamentals of news itself,” said Beckett.

The programme featured a number of media figures supportive of a renewed news agenda, including Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, who last week announced a global editorial initiative in this space.

“If we don’t cover positive stories, ideally with the same relentlessness and the same resources that we cover negative stories, we’re basically not giving our readers the full truth,” said Huffington. “We’re giving them a very jaundiced view of human nature.”

Stories that reinforce faith in human nature are shared three times more on the Huffington Post than the combined average of all other sections on the site, she added.

Like what you’re reading? Positive News depends on your support to publish quality inspiring content. Please donate to help us continue pioneering a more constructive news media.

Jamie Angus, editor of the BBC’s Today programme told Beckett he felt audiences were “fatigued” by the repetition of stories of misery and violence in foreign news and suggested that editors could give more attention to trends such as entrepreneurialism in Africa.

The news agenda as it stands has disturbing consequences, warned Beckett’s interviewee Dr Denise Baden, who has researched social psychology in relation to the news. “It leads to helplessness, it leads to a lack of agency, it leads to mental health issues,” she said.

Illustrating some of the most anxiety-inducing stories, Beckett read out a selection of headlines from an edition of the Daily Mail and asked its deputy editor, Tony Gallagher, whether that narrative reflected the real world.

“It’s an extraordinary fragment of the real world, which is why we should be covering it in the depth we are,” said Gallagher. “But of course it doesn’t relate to the ordinary person’s existence, any more than a crime thriller… But we are competing for people’s time and attention, and the reality is that bad news does sell.”

He added: “Crime is going down, there’s no getting away from it… I think there is a danger there, that we’re not reflecting the world as people see it. That said, you can’t ignore people’s fears.”

But Wood told Beckett that he believes journalists have a responsibility to also expose positive stories and potential solutions. “I think it’s not enough to just inform people about what’s going wrong… [The news] shapes our reality because of where it puts its focus and the way in which it chooses to report.”

While Positive News and its peers might not turn around the media’s interest in negative stories, “they may well be pioneers for a more diverse journalism,” concluded Beckett.

Photo title: Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of Huffington Post, is launching a new global editorial strategy focused on positive stories

Photo credit: © Huffington Post Media Group

  • Eric

    Folks, this is really good news, great achievement. I consider the articles on this from IVOH and Adrianna MOST WORTH READING. :-) http://ivoh.org/arianna-huffington-media-show-dark-side-failing-jobs/ and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/whats-working-all-the-news_b_6603924.html

    She’s new in this, but it becomes clear that after completing step (A) establishing the huff post (with nosense) in the field of nonsense, to (B) be different, and MEANINGFUL and to make changes. A GOOD EXAMPLE hwere a GOOD KING (QUEEN) can be better than a bad democracy (old school editorial board)

  • Sergio Tripi

    Positive and constructive news relating to engagement in improving the quality of life is news that spread light on the shaping of a world worth working for and doesn’t “burn out” in the space of a day.
    In a democratic environment which tends to assign to the citizen-elector a growing responsibility for the directions of social development, the formation of a public opinion which is widely aware of the main events that happen in the world is the key for directing the efforts of humanity towards a global village based on unity in diversity and on sharing, fundamental qualities for the development of a responsible and sustainable social life. In this perspective, the importance of the media is fundamental and the consequent social responsibility of publishers cannot be based any longer on the only element which has so far been unquestioned: the search for company profits through the maximum possible diffusion of the media. This aim has so far prevailed over every other consideration, thus taking from the media the responsibility for the formation of an aware and balanced public opinion.

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  • tara

    I previously worked as photojournalist in the 1980’s and 90’s and the primary focus of my work were what were considered ‘colour’ stories, a more indepth approach that centred on illustrating news but with focus on individuals. I spent weeks even months working closely with communities on subjects and built trust and respect to try to look at all angles as best I could – this would be completely unfashionable and non commercial now. I chose to leave the profession on returning from the start of war in Yugoslavia when then editor or major paper informed me he wouldn’t cover the story about breakdown of country and complexities as I quote “people want a beginning, middle and end and frankly this is just too complicated”. The aim was even if there was huge issue to show resilience and positivity even in trying circumstance. I just don’t see any reflected articles in major news outlets it primarily focused on shock, drama and has very little context to the complexities of the issues. There is a shocking oversimplification and ‘drama’ as well as encouraging overt sickening voyeurism (see many articles on Daily Mail et al with the standard disclaimers). The obsession with news now and then gone as quick impacts on readership on whatever platform. There is no doubt lots of outstanding work being done now but is being drowned out in the media pollution churned out, very little contemplation, time to consider and very little balance. People are being turned off learning about the world, others circumstances and viewing the ‘rest’ of the world as crazy unstable regions with no normality which is very disturbing. The gives a very biased view of the world and the heroic achievements of many people and communities struggling to create meaningful lives in often unbelievably difficult and impossible circumstances. I for one am inspired by website such as yourselves in holding the fort on balance and more optimistic approach. thanks, T

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