The need for good news in the media
Updated: Dec 4, 2018
(Note: I wrote the following post back in 2014 before becoming a full-time broadcast journalist. Since then, I'm glad to have had opportunities to tell a variety of good news -- and I still believe the public and media industry can benefit from more stories of good.)
A few months ago, I had the privilege of doing my postgraduate internships with Nine News and SBS Dateline.
Friends would ask about my experience in the newsroom. After a number of different conversations, I started to notice a pattern.
Me: “It’s incredible how much work goes into what looks like a simple 2-minute news story on Nine. And it’s a whole other level of planning at Dateline for their 20-minute reports on international current affairs.”
Friend: “It’s great that you got to see all that in action. But frankly… I don’t watch the news. It’s just too negative and depressing.”
Sadly, I didn’t even need to ask them why. Across the world, television news programmes follow a predictable format. They go something like this:
Worst news, bad news, commercial break. More bad news, sports, finance, weather. And maybe a ‘feel good’ piece towards the end to lighten things up.
So, newsrooms churn out bad news everyday because the industry believes that bad news sells. But people are tired of being bombarded with bad news and switching off.
It doesn’t take much to spot the irony.
Perhaps then, it’s time for the media to pay more attention to good news.
And by good news, I don’t mean more aww-inducing pictures of cute puppies.
I believe good news can be -- and should be -- more than a feel-good piece.
It was this belief that led me to conduct research into the idea of good news as part of my Master’s degree at The University of Sydney.
I thought I would share a few points from my research – as well as the full essay for those who are interested – in the hope that this will contribute to a cause I believe in.
1) Let’s pay more attention to what’s going right around us.
Discovery of new cures. Justice. Acts of kindness. Rescues. Unsung heroes. Love. Innovative solutions to problems in the world.
Good news happens everyday. But we’ve gotten so used to bad news filling the headlines, that it somehow seems unnatural or trivial to give more airtime to positive developments.
2) A focus on good news does not suggest that harsh realities be downplayed, as the public has the right to be informed.
Instead, the concept of ‘good news’ should be extended to involve a constructive treatment of ‘bad news’. One way of doing this is by placing incidents in their proper context.
Numerous studies have revealed how audiences perceive crime as more rampant than ever in their community due to excessive reporting of an isolated incident. This sensationalised the sense of crime in spite of declining crime rates.
3) There is value in reporting good news, even/especially when it comes to the political realm.
Journalists are taught the importance of being the public’s ‘watchdog’ in reporting on politics and public affairs. This is crucial to keep those in power accountable, but there is a danger of the media compromising its watchdog role by sensationalising the personal scandals or fumbles of politicians. We see this every other day in the news.
On the flipside, instances where public policy has performed well are rarely acknowledged. It is unsurprising then, that research has found that the media’s overemphasis on negativity and sensationalism has contributed to a breakdown in trust towards politicians and the media. The domino effect of that? A disinterest in politics and the news.
Just look around you and see how many people pay attention to what’s going on in politics.
But the good news is… good news may turn things around. Audience research conducted in the United States found that news about a successful policy report actually drew more interest than a failed one – pointing towards the value of (and desire for) good news in a climate of negativity.
4) It was heartening to discover alternative media outlets that have successfully embarked on good news reporting.
In my essay, I take a closer look at two pioneers in the alternative media space of good news journalism – the Good News Network and Positive News. I also look at how some mainstream media outlets like the Huffington Post and The Guardian have dabbled with the concept of good news.
If you're interested in a copy of my essay 'Rethinking traditional news values and the role of good news', e-mail [email protected] or send me a note through this site's 'Contact' form.
If you'd like to collaborate on bringing more good news, I’d love to hear from you too!