Blogs >> What if… the news was good?

What if… the news was good?

Seán Dagan Wood, Editor, Positive News

sean dagan woodThe other morning, stood on the platform at a London Underground station, I looked at all the people on the train that was waiting to depart. The majority were reading a newspaper. I thought to myself, imagine if all those people were reading a positive newspaper, or at least a paper with more of a balance of good and bad news. And if everyone on the tube that morning, and on the buses, and in cafes was reading a positive newspaper – and not just in London but all across the world. How different would the world be that day, I wondered? Would we notice any difference?

What thoughts would those people have, how might their perspectives change, what new decisions might they make, how different might they feel, how differently might they relate to other people at work or home that day?

There is an idea that what the news media does is report facts and reflect reality back to us. But in telling stories about how our world is, the media also shapes reality. The news influences our thoughts, conversations, perspectives, beliefs, and in turn our choices and actions, which ripple out into the world.

I believe that the media must take full responsibility for this crucial role of shaping the social consciousness.

Of course it’s essential for the media to report crime, war, corruption and injustice, to expose inequality and exploitation, and to hold power to account. And I don’t for a second want to discredit the excellence of much journalism that does so.

However, the relentless negativity of much of the media can leave people feeling disempowered and depressed by not knowing how to respond effectively to the overload of information about what’s going wrong.

We’re living in a time of unprecedented global challenges, including economic instability, climate change and social inequality. But this is also a time of great innovation, achievement, prosperity and possibility in many fields of human activity, and there are an incredible amount of people, groups, communities, businesses and organisations taking action and making progress to build a better world. At the moment the overall story that the media is telling doesn’t fully acknowledge this.

It is at this challenging time that we need a new story of our world. One that exposes the problems but that inspires us and empowers us to all play our part in creating, what the author Charles Eisenstein calls, “the better world that our hearts know is possible.”

This new story includes developments such as the fact that statistically the world is actually more peaceful today than at any time in recent centuries. Clearly we still have a long way to go, but in the last 20 years, for example, the number of wars worldwide has fallen from around 50 in 1990 to 30 in 2010.

Other promising trends include the growing interest in creating a global economic model that prioritises people’s wellbeing rather than just continuously increasing gross domestic product. In South America meanwhile, some countries are beginning to give legal rights to the natural world and are trying to build their societies around the concept of living in harmony with all life and prioritising the collective good. In places such as the UK, increasingly businesses that are working for the benefit of society and the environment are succeeding where others are failing. Another promising trend is the emergence of new grassroots movements such as Transition Towns, or positive and proactive online communities such as Avaaz, which now has 24 million members worldwide.

These are just a few aspects of a new story of the world, and it is developments such as these that Positive News focuses on. Rather than driving audience figures by triggering fear, we instead want to trigger the human spirit.

Positive News is the world’s first positive newspaper, taking a solution-focused perspective on some of today’s most pressing issues. It has been in print for 20 years now and we have a national circulation of 40,000 copies, with a rapidly growing audience online.

But there’s an increasing amount of other positive media out there as well. Good news websites are springing up on every continent, in countries from Afghanistan to Pakistan and from Italy to Israel.

The mainstream press is also beginning to show signs of change. The LA Times, for example, has created a dedicated good news Twitter feed, and in France an NGO called Reporters d’Espoire (Reporters of Hope) is partnering with French national newspapers to create supplements of good news, which are in fact boosting sales of those papers.

In order to build on the momentum of this emerging positive media sector, I have co-founded the Transformational Media Initiative. This is an alliance of people from across different media sectors – from journalism to film to digital to creative media – who are producing media that aims to truly benefit humanity and the planet.

Our first programme will be focused around the concept of constructive journalism, and one of our main activities will be to work with journalism schools to give journalists the tools they need to create news that remains high quality, accurate and critical, but is also positive and constructive.

The first such training programme has already taken place at a university in Copenhagen earlier this year. It was attended by mainstream journalists and was sold out. These courses are being run by Cathrine Gyldensted, an experienced investigative reporter and also a co-founder of TMI. A few years ago Cathrine took a career break to study for a master’s in positive psychology – the scientific understanding of what enables people to thrive. She is now applying this science to the field of journalism.

Her research shows that negative news creates “learned helplessness” and passivity in people, whereas articles on the same news item but written with a positive angle, create an empowering emotional response.

So through constructive journalism people can be engaged more in society. While trying to adjust its business models to the digital age, the media must also innovate its content. Publishing and broadcasting more positive news will not only help catalyse the solutions to the challenges we face, but after events such as the phone hacking scandal, it also presents an opportunity for news media to re-engage the public and create a new, ethical avenue for sales.

I think that fundamental to the rise of positive media that we’re now beginning to see, and to the story it’s telling, is a strengthening of universal human values such as compassion, co-operation, and service. At the same time fields such as physics and psychology, and of course our own experiences, are helping us to realise that we’re part of an interconnected, living, responsive universe, where every intention, choice and action can have an effect.

So the power of media is the power of stories and how we use our attention. And a better future begins with creating, and bringing our attention, to better stories.

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