When we flip on the news, scroll through our news feed, we’ll see videos, photos and articles with headlines about a recent mass shooting, gender inequality, political issues within our government, racial injustices, a disease breakout, etc. Our country seems to be falling apart. We start to think, “is there any good in this world?” With all the media attention on problems in America, it is no wonder why some Americans think we are in shambles. Why do we see negativity dominate headlines and where can we find the good news?
Tom Strafford, a psychologist writer for BBC, explores possibilities of why bad news dominate headlines. He found that journalists are either absorbed in reporting negative news because it is more interesting, or it is easier to write than slow developing stories. Stafford believes that it is the readers or viewers that have trained journalists to write bad news. After all, journalists tailor and develop stories that all people would want to consume.
Researchers at McGill University conducted an experiment and concluded with their subjects having “negativity bias,” a term for our collective craving to hear and remember bad news. This is not because people like hearing other people’s misfortunes, but it is because we are adapted to react promptly to potential threats. As a result, the media fulfill what the consumers want. Makes sense, right?
Because journalists are writing stories in the negative light, people will begin to cultivate a more negative perception of our country. Based on the “cultivation theory” by George Gerbner, visual media such as television, videos/movies, memes and pictures cultivate our conceptions of society. Gerbner coined the term mainstreaming to describe how the mass media gathers attitudes and values existing in society’s culture and then sustains them and distributes them to media consumers.
Take the mass shooting in Las Vegas, for example. As soon as the story came out, news networks locally, then nationally, took leads on this story. We see this covered not only through professional journalists, but also through citizen journalists, people like you and I, who publish our own content from our phones. Soon, the topic of the shooting will be seen and heard everywhere we turn. People who experience this excessive amount of exposure are what Gerbner called "heavy viewers." Being a "heavy viewer" on negative mass media will change our perception of where our country is heading.
Want to hear the good news? Our negative outlook of our county can be cured if we just become more mindful of what we consume and how much we take in. Life is, after all, a balance. And we need good news just as much as the bad, if not more.
If you sift through the dirt, there are indeed sections titled “Good News” for Fox, Huffington Post, MSN and Today, for example, where they have positive news. There are also networks dedicated especially for uplifting news such as Good News Network and Positive News. There, they report on advancements on medical research, new developments in aerospace and people helping out after natural disasters and crises. We just have to look for ourselves.
Next time when you pick up your phone, thumb through a paper or flip the television on, make sure you get your daily dose of good news, for our country is actually not as bad as it seems, nor is it in shambles as the mainstream headlines make it out to be.
Anna LaTour is from Malone, N.Y. She is a university student of communications and journalism.