How Does the News Make You Feel?
A week ago I did a very informal survey via Facebook. I asked my friends "How does watching/reading the news make you feel?" Here's what I got back:
shitty anxious (5) depressed (4) helpless (2) discouraged (3) lied to triggered despondent (2) disappointed nauseous bad (2) angry (9) better informed connected concerned frustrated (3) sad (5) hopeful (2) inspired (2) incited despairing helpless hopeless (2) horrible enjoy empowered overwhelmed disgusted (2) sick in control
You'll note that most of the responses reflect negative effects of watching/reading the news. Note that angry, anxious and depressed were three most popular responses. But there were some positives, too. Some of my friends felt incited, in control, and better informed. Clearly it's important to keep abreast of the news, but can we do it without the anger, anxiety and depression (please)?
There is a good (not great) body of psychological literature about the negative effects of negative news, and I’m sure that this literature will grow given the current news environment. The findings are not surprising. For example, one study found that reporting of murders rose 700% during the 90s, the very decade murder rates plummeted. During a time of incredible progress against murder, reportage of slayings increased sevenfold!
This is terrible, both for our well-being in our democracy! If we’re having success against perennial problems like crime, the news should splash it across the front page. This will encourage us to design new and better policies. And indeed there are many successful crime-fighting policies that are working, including using data analytics to predict crime, community policing, and camera monitoring of areas prone to crime.
Back to the survey.
Several people talked about how they choose what news they get. They talked about carefully managing their news diet.
You are what you eat, right? If you eat Cheetos and Pop Tarts all day you will you gain weight (and probably have heartburn and gas). On the other hand, if you eat a healthy, balanced diet, you’ll look and feel better. The same is true of the news you consume.
The idea of a healthy news diet is gaining steam. Jodie Jackson recently published You Are What You Read: Why Changing Your Media Diet Can Change the World.
I suggest four things to look for in nutritious news:
One: Look for news that shows the whole picture. It doesn't just give you the bad news. And it put things in context. For example, if there is a murder, what are the murder rates in the area? Are things getting better or worse in the short and long term. Good news outlets tell you the whole story.
Two: Look for news that goes deep. What is the nature of the problem? What are the different sides of the problem. Reality is complex. Headlines and sensational news don't capture the nuances.
Three: Look for news that talks about solutions. Solutions journalism is a growing sub-field within the profession. The best way to dive into solutions journalism is to visit the Solutions Journalism Story Tracker. Their curated database contains nearly 7000 news stories of problems...and solutions!
Four: Look for news that highlights good news. There are many positive news sources and their numbers are growing. Positive News is a quarterly magazine published in the UK that has published positive stories since 1993. Good News Network publishes positive news stories every day. Here in the US the Christian Science Monitor is known for its deep and balanced journalism. In its 100+ year history, the Monitor has won seven Pulitzer prizes. Its daily stories give depth, breadth, balance and a breath of the positive and possible. Like the Monitor, Vox publishes stories that go deep. Their Future Perfect section highlights solutions as a balance against the common doomsaying in the news.
My challenge to you this week: Change your news diet, if only for seven days. Check out the websites for Positive News, the Monitor and Vox. This week, just get your news from these and other reputable, balanced and positive sources. And share how it feels on my blog. I look forward to hearing from you!
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