I wish all the news I had to write was CT scanner donations and cat adoption stories, but it isn’t.
Recently I was on social media when I saw someone talking about how they wished media organizations (not specifically our paper, but the “news” in general) would share more positive stories.
This gave me pause, because while I think it’s commendable to want to live in a world in which people are so selfless and kind that there is no such thing as bad news, I can’t help but dwell on the suggestion that media organizations should pursue more positive (or “fluff,” or whatever you want to call them) stories as opposed to simply reporting what is happening at any given moment.
I get it, news (read: a select few who are often featured in it) often makes me angry too.
Especially if you don’t identify with any combination of municipal, provincial, federal or international politics, reading news about people you likely don’t care too much about can be annoying.
But it’s also important. When we shut down and say, “No, enough, I don’t want any more of this bad stuff, I want to hear things that make me happy,” what we are really saying is we would rather be fed digital and physical soma by the broadcasters of this world instead of what is really going on, regardless of whether it’s positive or not.
Let’s contextualize this.
In 2020 (it still feels weird typing that) we live in a world where social media is so pervasive that if you don’t have some digital persona which you constantly groom and which is only a reflection of the “best” version of yourself — your best photos, best moments, best anecdotes and best thoughts — it is you who is the pariah.
A world where sponsored content is so rampant the digital sphere is able to send you targeted ads for those fancy printed socks you were talking about around Alexa but swore you never searched up on Amazon (I can’t be the only one this has happened to).
And lastly, a world where people of power and influence can circumvent the traditional gatekeepers of information and fact for platforms like Twitter where bravado beats brawn and rhetoric beats empiricism every time.
Whereas we used to socially ostracize conspiracy theorists (don’t get me wrong, I love a good conspiracy as much as the next person, but I’m talking the truly deranged ones who believe lizard people rule a flat earth) now there are dozens of YouTube channels which will not only cater to their delusions but actually further them. These spaces also connect like-minded individuals; they are a big reason we are seeing such a rise of far-left and far-right extremism.
In short: whatever you believe, there’s someone on the internet who is willing to tell you you’re correct and it’s everyone else that is wrong. That there is a grand conspiracy to keep you from realizing the truth.
We are already losing news. It is becoming harder and harder to find accurate, verifiable news online that is being given away for free.
The solution is not more cat videos, it’s a middle ground.
When I was in school we learned about a thing called solutions journalism. In short, it’s a story about a potential solution to a problem as opposed to just the problem itself. Think “Local child in remote African village finds way to sterilize entire drinking supply” as opposed to “Small municipality no longer has highest cholera death rate in world.”
This is the way forward, not simply news that makes you happy, but rather timely, important stories being produced by journalists doing everything they can to find the positive silver lining.
I’m the first to admit I can do better and try to look for more positive angles to stories. We all should try. That said, there isn’t always going to be one. Some stories are just plain sad.
If you still disagree with me then perhaps there is no convincing you, but you’d do well to read 1984 and really look back at exactly what Winston was doing for the “Ministry of Truth”: an eerily-accurate depiction of what happens when you combine authoritarianism in any of its forms with a seemingly-neverending digital grasp: in effect, the ability to censor reality.
How would ignoring the negative to write the positive be any different?