Sunday, 11 January 2015

A year of good news

Here's a question for you: is the world a worse place today than it used to be?

The internet's continual stream of updates about ISIS, 24-hour TV coverage of the Charlie Hedbo office shootings and subsequent manhunt in France, and countless other stories could give you the impression that it's all gone to pot.

There certainly feels like there's a lot of bad news about these days.   

But has there actually been an increase in the bad news, or just an increase in the coverage of bad news?

Thinking back to my childhood in the '80s in Queensland, I remember it as a happy and carefree time (though there's always the danger of looking back in time with rose coloured glasses).   I was aware of international and national bad news, but it didn't seem to have the power to permanently impact me.  

Yet bad news did happen in the '80s.  There were airline hijackings, IRA blasts and a host of other disasters - just like any other decade.

What's changed is how we hear about these events.  Back then, there might have been a piece on the radio, nightly news bulletin or in the newspaper, and that was it.   We also usually heard about news after it happened.  Some times days after it happened.

Contrast to today.   We don't just hear about news as it is happens, but we also get to see it as well. It's non-stop rolling coverage... even when we don't know what's happening.  And to fill the air time we get to hear from lots of different people telling us about what they think might be happening, some of which later turns out to be complete rubbish.

I'm not saying that bad news shouldn't be reported.  As a former journalist, I'm firm in my belief that it must be reported.  I'm not wanting the news sugar coated and I'm not trying to pretend bad things don't happen.  But maybe we need to make a conscious effort to balance our consumption.

Take the Charlie Hedbo shootings.  As global citizens, it is important that we know what happened. Undoubtably I should know what happened, but does that mean I need to see videos of police officers getting shot in the street?  Will that improve my understanding of what is going on or is this just the same voyeurism that makes us slow down when passing traffic accidents? 

Part of being conscious of the news we're consuming is also keeping a healthy scepticism about your news source.   I'm tired of media outlets trying to "sizzle" a story, as if it's a mini-series I need to tune back in for.  I also question the continual need to identify "heroes" and "villans", apportion blame to someone, or make me "feel" the story. 

With all this in mind, I'm on the hunt this year for news sites that can help me balance the good with the bad.  I've found these six but I'm always keen to hear about others.

You've heard of The Huffington Post, the American online news aggregator, but did you know it has a Good News page?  Apart from the obligatory kids and pet stories, there are some insightful blog pieces and other stories that might inspire and delight.

Despite sounding like a fundamentalist Christian group, this site calls itself an "antidote to the barrage of negativity experienced in mainstream media".  What I like about this site is that in between the human interest stories, there are also "harder" positive news stories, such as research and report findings.

This site had me worried - it looks like it was designed by the same mob who did my primary school bible studies book.   But on closer inspection it mixes genuinely interesting harder news stories with the softer ones.

Again the design of this site could be improved so it looks like it is designed for adults, but I like its manifesto: "we believe virtue, goodwill and heroism are hot news.  That's why we bring you up-to-the-minute news, geared to lift spirits and inspire lives".  This site also takes a broad approach with happy news categories for international, science and technology etc.

5.  Upworthy

Upworthy focuses on the positive human interest stories, mostly through videos and graphics.

This seems like a slightly odd addition to the list.  But what I like about The Economist is its more objective, no-nonsense approach to delivering the facts about what is going on in the world (not just economic events as the title may suggest).  It also does a great job of putting context around news, drawing on research and linking it to what has happened previously, rather than just relying on wild speculation and commentary.  Strangely, after reading an article or two I feel as though I've actually learnt something.

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