- - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As the nation and the world jump from crisis to crisis, a little good news might be in order.

In fact, a number of major news outlets and bloggers provide websites to make people feel better in times of trouble and turmoil.

For example, the godmother of the current trend toward good news, former television producer Geri Weis-Corbley, launched the Good News Network (GoodNewsNetwork.org) in 1997.

“This website was created in order to report on outstanding citizen action, innovative solutions to the world’s problems and to shatter negative stereotypes,” she writes.

That doesn’t mean she eschews negative news: “Featuring only positive news is not meant to suggest that there isn’t a place for ‘negative news’ in our lives. We still need to be informed citizens, especially to be responsible voters,” she says.

The site’s recent stories include reports about how a quadriplegic’s recovery has sparked medical interest about his case and New York University’s work to create an invisibility cloak like the one in the “Harry Potter” books.

The website has been able to create content and revenues through citizen posts, donations and subscriptions.

Some major news outlets, from The Huffington Post to Fox News, have created good news sections of their websites. The Washington Post recently launched a site called “The Optimist,” while CNN and others have some aggregated pages about good news.

The Huffington Post website has become one of the most successful, with 5.5 million unique viewers in August, an increase of 85 percent over the previous year, according to comScore. Although the entire website received 115 million unique views in August, the good news section attracted about 5 percent of that total to create a viable niche.

“We found that there was a need to tell another side of a story,” Jessica Prois, the editor of the website that began two years ago, told me. “We found that there was an appetite for these type of positive pieces. These stories make you feel hopeful.”

Unfortunately, some good news sites come with a hidden agenda. One website deals mainly with climate change and the need for wind and solar power. Another website deals solely with religion — a valid goal but not a legitimate news website.

But does good news really attract readers? It depends on whom you ask.

A recent study by Brigham Young University found that discussing positive experiences “leads to heightened well-being, increased overall life satisfaction and even more energy.”

But a recent survey about political coverage concluded that people tend toward negative news. “Politically interested participants are more likely to select negative stories,” the study at Canada’s McGill University found. “[R]egardless of what participants say, they exhibit a preference for negative news content.”

But the researchers noted that the idea that “the media are negative and cynical about politics and politicians is widely agreed upon in the literature. Some scholars see this trend as a mutation from the media as a watchdog ‘Fourth Estate’ into a hypercritical ‘feeding frenzy.’”

Even though the media should cover politics with an eye toward what may be wrong, reporters also need to provide stories about what may be right. Alas, that rarely happens.

Perhaps journalists need to learn from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Albert Schweitzer, who said, “Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it.” That makes sense to me. That doesn’t mean the media have to neglect Ebola and the Islamic State, but readers and viewers also may need a mix of good and bad to make it through the day.

Christopher Harper teaches journalism at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at [email protected] and on Twitter @charper51.

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