The world isn’t simply a dark abyss of only catastrophic disasters, corrupt political systems and endless wars. Granted, those are definitely elements that make up our world. However, by focusing solely on the glaring negatives of the world, news sources generally aren’t portraying life accurately. While we still need to acknowledge the negative events that go on in the world, we can also provide solutions and write about the positive events going on.
We at Scroll believe news sources should implement more elements of constructive and solution-based journalism to improve the well-being of their readers.
In a 2020 research paper of 20,000 COVID-19-related articles, 91% were classified as negative in the United States. The study also reported negativity is even more notable in positive scientific developments in the U.S. such as vaccine trials.
However, this negativity isn’t new. In a 2018 survey from the American Psychological Association, many adults experienced stress caused by news reports. With constant negativity in the news, many consumers can’t help but be affected.
According to Taking Charge of your Health and Wellbeing with the University of Minnesota, “Negative attitudes and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can create chronic stress, which upsets the body’s hormone balance, depletes the brain chemicals required for happiness, and damages the immune system. Chronic stress can actually decrease our lifespan.”
In contrast, positivity relates to lower rates of depression, better coping skills with stress and better psychological and physical well-being. Despite this evidence, our attraction to negative news remains intact.
It is no secret that drama and high action are entertaining and transport audiences into a state of suspense. Naturally, reporters who write news utilize audience attraction to drama as a tool. As a result, many news stories are heavy, pressing and negative.
However, the pressing feeling of negative news may not be because of the subject but because constructive journalism elements are left out. For example, a story about an increased number of local robberies may leave viewers feeling on edge unless details about increased city patrol by the police department are also included.
Interestingly, most viewers of news verbally indicate they dislike the prominence of negative news and wish more positive stories were circulated. However, according to the results of a study conducted by Marc Trussler and Stuart Soroka at McGill University in Canada, people are more likely to read negative stories even when positive ones are available.
Tom Stafford, a BBC Future reporter, elaborated on the McGill University study procedures and study results in his article titled “Psychology: Why bad news dominates the headlines.”
“The results of the experiment, as well as the stories that were read most, were somewhat depressing,” Stafford said. “Participants often chose stories with a negative tone – corruption, set-backs, hypocrisy and so on – rather than neutral or positive stories … And yet when asked, these people said they preferred good news. On average, they said that the media was too focused on negative stories.”
Why is this? Researchers Trussler and Soroka attributed this seemingly backward results to what they termed as “negativity bias,” or the inherent disposition to react more quickly to negative words than positive ones as a subconscious survival technique. Trussler and Soroka also provided an additional theory for this result as a part of their research evidence.
“We pay attention to bad news, because on the whole, we think the world is rosier than it actually is,” Trussler and Soroka said. “This pleasant view of the world makes bad news all the more surprising and salient.”
Despite this proven slant toward negative news, viewing too much tragedy and large-scale disaster can have negative effects on mood and hope in the world. How can we combat these negative side effects? Constructive journalism, a new and more positive approach to news, could be the answer.
Constructive Journalism focuses on progress and resilience while investigating potential solutions to the situation at hand. It searches for truth by exploring multiple perspectives and angles.
It aspires to paint a more accurate picture of the world without dwelling on negativity. It also aims to empower and motivate readers to hold onto hope and take action.
According to a Constructive Journalism Network article, constructive journalism seeks to:
“1. Expand journalistic interviewing.
2. Investigate common ground, progress, resilience, learning and resources.
3. Use data to create a larger overview: Are we looking at progress or setback?
4. Eliminate polarizing, simplistic news coverage by adding more nuances and complexity.
5. Facilitate a future-oriented, constructive conversation.
6. Strengthen co-creation with readers, viewers and listeners.”
Constructive journalism doesn’t just spread positivity, it also amplifies meaning, searches for deeper truths and looks toward the future.
Positive events still qualify as newsworthy despite the lack of shock factor. Constructive journalism is a writing genre through which uplifting stories can be told in a timely, relevant and factually accurate manner. But what does constructive journalism really look like?
In a Greater Good Magazine article by Jill Suttie titled “Why We Need Hopeful News,” she shared that several news outlets are taking strides toward constructive journalism. Examples of this include the Google Assistant feature called “Tell Me Something Good” and The New York Times online page called “Fixes.” Both gives consumers direct access to more uplifting stories.
In a Fox News article about COVID-19, statistics show quarantine is bringing families closer together by giving them time to spend teaching and learning from one another.
In a similarly hopeful article by the Washington Post, the tender relationship between a little boy and a WWII veteran is featured, highlighting the old man’s heartbreak when the little boy’s family eventually moves away.
A CBS article also uses the experiences of a young boy who was orphaned at a young age. Due to his understanding of hardship and sadness, the 6-year-old boy endeavored to make people smile by handing out small toys and give hugs. These are genuine examples of Constructive Journalism.
All of these sources bring positivity to the frontline of news, but there is one important thing to observe — the journalists sharing these stories chose to present these stories from a brighter angle.
In the first example about the unifying effects of COVID-19, Fox News journalists took a heavy subject, like a worldwide pandemic, and showed how not all changes caused by the virus have been bad. In fact, it showed a positive correlation between quarantine and spending time developing relationships or skills.
According to Karen McIntyre, a Virginia Commonwealth University media researcher, constructive journalism does not exclusively refer to news stories that are predominantly positive. Journalism is also considered constructive when negative news is followed up with explanations of how the problems presented will be handled or prevented in the future.
“If we incorporate some of this constructive news into our regular media diet, we can mitigate some of the effects of negative news,” McIntyre said.
Based on the positive effects of viewing more constructive journalism, it is important to make a conscious effort to consume and share more constructive content.
People reading the news have the power to encourage journalists to move toward constructive journalism. Sharing positive news stories on social media can help them gain traction and popularity, eventually leading to an increase in their demand.
We can all be active consumers and spreaders of positivity by flooding social media with our favorite examples of constructive journalism.