Positive power: Despite levels of mistrust, media can be a force for good

Published: Thursday, June 14 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

In his book, "Standing for Something," late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley expressed his views on the negativity of the news media. While some journalists are masters of the written and spoken word, he wrote, many carry a cynical attitude.

"It is impossible to read the columns or listen to the commentaries without sensing that there is a terrible ailment of gloom in this land. We are constantly fed a steady and sour diet of pessimism, faultfinding, second-guessing and evil speaking one of another. The pathetic fact is, negativism sells," President Hinckley wrote. "The attitude of many is negative. With studied art, they pour out their vinegar of invective and anger, judging all as if all wisdom belonged to them. Under the guise of analysis and informed opinion, they frequently dwell on their subjects' failings rather than their strengths. If we took such pundits seriously, we might think the whole nation and indeed the whole world was going down the drain. There have been times when a particularly heavy dose of such cynicism has caused me to reflect that surely this is the age and place of the gifted pickle sucker!"

While acknowledging that problems and challenges are a part of life, a steady diet of negative news can influence individual attitudes, outlooks and values, President Hinckley said.

"I am not suggesting that our conversation be all sweetness and honey," he wrote. "What I am suggesting is that we have had missing from our society a buoyant spirit of optimism."

Good news

The compelling stories are out there, Rascon said.

"It's a fact that there are wonderful, heartwarming and inspiring stories out there. They happen every day, no question," the veteran broadcaster said. "It's a matter of finding them."

Rascon recalled covering a story in Nicaragua in 1998 and finding dozens of families with hundreds of children living in a large city dump site. "The massive pile of garbage was literally their source of life," he said.

A new story emerged from the trash. He related an account of the kids at the dump and their struggle to survive. The story changed lives.

"The video was reproduced hundreds of times and sent to organizations. It ignited this amazing fervor of trying to help these kids," Rascon said. "As a result, millions of dollars came in and the kids now have places to live, schools to attend and teachers who care about them. To see these kids yanked from dump sites and being educated as a result of that initial story, I'm just grateful I was able to play a small role."

In 1995, The Oregonian in Portland, Ore., printed a feature story about Bill Porter, a man born with cerebral palsy but who supported himself as a door-to-door salesman. The story of Porter's optimistic determination captured national media attention and inspired millions.

"In my 17 years as a reporter, no story has ever produced this kind of response," Oregonian reporter Tom Hallman Jr. wrote in a 2007 retrospective.

New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof recently wrote a piece that educated readers about fistula, a childbirth injury that causes females to leak urine or feces continuously through the vagina. The problem plagues more than two million worldwide. Kristof told the incredible story of an Ethiopian woman and the doctor who helped change her life. Readers responded with contributions and helped open a hospital in Danja, Niger.

Now doctors are trying to raise $500,000 in annual operating costs so the hospital can perform up to 1,000 fistula repairs a year (for more information, visit www.fistulafoundation.org).

Journalist Kevin Fagan has reported extensively on homeless issues in San Francisco in the last decade. His efforts as a "solution journalist" have led to the creation of new social programs, reunited families and influenced social change. It's easier to write about the problems rather than what's working, Fagan said.

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