“Nothing But Bad News…”

September 13, 2013

Sometimes when discussing current events I will hear someone say "Oh, I hate the news... I don't follow the news anymore, it's nothing but bad news." It's just a depressing laundry list of death and war and problems, a daily documentation of the world's progress on its inexorable path toward hell.

It's a jaded, cynical trope common as dirt, and it's also wrong.

Having written several books about the media, and news media specifically (such as Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us), I'm well aware of the tendency of journalists to run negative, sensational stories instead of positive, thoughtful ones. As they say, "If it bleeds it leads," and bad news about war, crime, murder, rape, genocide, and pollution will always crowd out stories of peace, heroism, human achievement, and other good news.

However there's plenty of good news out there. I read the local newspaper as well as the New York Times each day, and usually watch a nightly news broadcast. Just about every day I find good and encouraging news.

I read about important medical breakthroughs in the treatment of diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's, degenerative eye diseases, and countless other problems that plague billions of people. I read about two heroic Texas teenagers who helped rescue a kidnapped woman they saw in traffic. I read about Diana Nyad, the inspiring 64-year-old woman who swam from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage after having failed the attempt four times since 1978.

I read about the falling rates of violent crime and teenage pregnancy. I read about how young Pakistani feminist and education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was wounded by Taliban assassins last year, has made a remarkable recovery and gave a talk to the United Nations about the importance of worldwide access to education. I see news stories about endangered species being brought back from the brink of extinction and the discovery of huge aquifers in Kenya which may help relieve drought for millions in East Africa. Over and over, day in and day out, I see good news all around me.

Of course it's important to remember that "good news" is subjective; the recent acceptance and legalization of gay marriage across the United States is good news to me, but decidedly bad news to many conservatives. Part of it is also confirmation bias: We seek out information that confirms our beliefs and assumptions, so it's not surprising that people who aren't looking for good news may not see it (or recognize or pay attention to it). Like anything else, it's important to keep things in perspective and remember that what we see on television, including the news, does not necessarily reflect or represent real life.

It's easy to become cynical about the news media, but there is good journalism out there, and good news. But you won't find it if you don't follow the news.