In a pandemic, good news makes headlines. In peacetime, not so much.
If Michael Fox’s Marty McFly had visited 2020, he would have been sorely disappointed. We began with murder, mayhem, madness – and ended on a pandemic. We wake up to chaos day after day, making Twitter and a relentless cycle of news our devastating white noise.
But this rainy cloud, or this veritable storm, has its fair share of silver lining.
Optimists will tell you there’s plenty of good happening in the world right now, and they aren’t wrong. The glass has always been full – but our interest in positive headlines has made an appearance only recently.
Where does one go to find happy stories during a pandemic?
That’s the question of this new decade. Google searches for good news have shored up in the last one month – John Krasinski might have something to do with that, we reckon.
The former paper salesman and US Marine turns a reporter for “a news show dedicated entirely to good news”. Some Good News has over 2 million subscribers and more than 30 million views in the last three weeks.
The Good News Network, which has been covering positive stories for 20 years now, can attest to the surge in popularity. “Battered by grim headlines,” editor Geri Weis-Corbley remarks in a statement, “people worldwide are seeking out positive news.” The network has seen traffic increase trifold in the last month.
Various Instagram accounts dedicated to the upside, like @Goodnews_Movement and @tanksgoodnews, have seen similar growth. Even conventional media platforms have weekly doses of positive stories during the coronavirus pandemic.
Clearly, good news has never been more popular. Which makes an awful lot of sense.
Good News’ Claim to Fame
Why? The reason lies in our quest to get through this. “I think it’s very natural. It’s a natural human response – we are looking for hope, we are looking for resilience,” Professor Charlie Beckett, head of a media think tank at LSE, tells us.
Coronavirus has pulled the rug under our feet.
COVID-19 has made us realise now more than ever why we need good news.
But that hasn’t always been the case. We’ve been perpetuating a negative news cycle for a while now
In the run-up to coronavirus, the world was far from ideal and the news cycle didn’t shy away from representing that. Stories of corruption, social injustice, climate crisis dominated headlines.
In 2019, Sky News launched a pop-up news channel dedicated to Brexit-free news – owing to the anxiety it was causing in people.
In January, self-help expert Rolf Dobelli published a book called “Stop Reading the News”. It was a “manifesto for a happier, calmer, and wiser life” – one can safely infer that packaged news had great potential to dampen spirits.
According to a study by Pew Research Centre for Press and People, two generations of Americans have shown greater interest in reports about war, terrorism, natural disasters, or bad weather. Politics, crime, and health come a close second; and entertainment and scientific discoveries garner the least interest.
Essentially, 90% of news Americans hear have a negative tone attached to it.
Which one would you listen to first – good news or bad news?
If you chose bad news, it might be because our brain is hardwired to do so.
Psychologically, bad news cultivates attention and demands to be heard.
It might also be necessary for an informed society.
Media studies illustrate how bad news outweighs good news by as much as 17 negative reports for every one good news report.
We end up caring more about the threat of bad things than about the hope of good things, according to writer Ray Williams.
Framing the news around grim stories, according to Michael J. Robinson of Pew Research Center, potentially paints a despairing picture of the world. At the worst, continual bad news can even stimulate a state of depression.
It also overexposes us to human suffering – to the extent we might grow immune to it.
It can either discourage people and trigger a crisis of cynicism, or galvanise people to remedy the system.
What does this mean for organisations trying to commit to positive storytelling?
Good news has always been around the corner – but we’re seeing that just now.
Mainstream outlets have their renditions of good news. The Washington Post maintains an ‘Inspired Life’ blog, The New York Times has ‘The Week in Good News’, The Guardian is known for its ‘The Upside’, and BBC’s ‘Happy News!’ has the daily dose of upbeat stories.
Naturally, their demand has surged recently. The Washington Post’s weekly good-news newsletter is now a biweekly production of The Optimist.
Upworthy, a media platform found in 2012 exclusive for positive stories, recorded low readership before the crisis. Now, it has recorded a 65 percent growth in followers on Instagram and 47 percent increase in on-site page views in March compared to the previous month, according to The New York Times.
Branden Harvey is the founder of Good Good Good, who hopes to make people less overwhelmed and more “equipped to make a meaningful difference.”
Will we still care about positive news when the pandemic ends?
As we restructured our days and postponed plans to an indefinite future – time felt permanently altered. The New York Times, however, knows that “time does not pause”, and now we have the time “to notice what flourishes around us.”
Experience in social isolation will hopefully be a reawakening. Acts of kindness might no longer be fillers, and the best of humanity will be celebrated instead of treated as a balancing act.