I gave up negative media for Lent.
While some people give up sugar or sex, my Lenten discipline was to only consume high-nutrient media for forty days. (Read the original blog post here.) Giving up crime dramas and superhero movies was easy; the hard part was keeping tabs on the world.
Here’s what I learned: If you’re trying to consume only positive, high-nutrient media, you can’t watch the news.
TV news is relentlessly negative. I’d be at the fitness club, reading my Kindle on the StairMaster, and I’d take a quick glance at the row of TV screens above me. There would be a headline like GUNMAN KILLS PIANO MOVER or CROSSBOW FATALITIES REACH RECORD HIGH. “Gah!” I would yelp, averting my eyes as if I had seen the Medusa.
I tried reading online news, but it wasn’t much better. I’d scan the New York Times website and see headlines like DISEASED LLAMAS THREATEN PERU ECONOMY, NEW STREET DRUG TARGETS ELDERLY WIDOWS, etc. “Mamma Mia!” I would shout, which is strange because I’m not Italian.
What I wanted was a positive news network. I wanted to know what was going on in the world, but from a positive perspective. Surely this is not so difficult: if Fox News can spin everything toward a conservative viewpoint, we can have a news network that spins things positively.
- We can have a media network that talks about political candidates by highlighting their strengths, track record, and ideas.
- We can have a media network that reports on innovations in science and technology, with the promise of what they can do for the future.
- We can have a media network that highlights breakthroughs in the worlds of business, education, and healthcare.
In short, we can have a media network that is pro-human.
When I searched for “positive news,” I got a bunch of websites that featured adorable pictures of puppy dogs and babies. I don’t want a whitewashed, sugar-coated view of the world. If there’s a terrorist attack, I want to hear about it, alongside stories of the heroes who rescued the wounded.
We can have a positive news network.
PNN: The Positive News Network
Before we can get to the launch of PNN, we have to root out the myth that people are only interested in negative news. You may have heard the old saw, “If it bleeds, it leads,” meaning the best news headline is the one involving blood, murder, or mayhem.
The problem with that thinking is that the more we are exposed to negative news, the more negativity we see in the world around us. This is well-proven by research studies showing that as violence on prime time programming increases, Americans become more afraid. As partisan news programming increases, Americans become more hostile toward the other political party. We believe what the media tells us.
Every negative headline and news story, then, has a multiplier effect: it serves to make society more like the negative story it is reporting. Every positive story, in contrast, creates an upward spiral: it inspires more of the positive qualities being reported.
As I write this, I’m in the Newark airport, where CNN is blaring loudly on a screen in front of me. I didn’t ask for CNN, and in fact I’m sitting at the gate waiting for my plane, where I believe I should have the right to a CNN-free environment. I’ve got earplugs in, but I happened to glance up and saw the headline:
GOP CHAIR: “AMERICANS ARE MORE AFRAID THAN EVER.”
I absolutely believe in freedom of the press, but I also believe that with great freedom comes great responsibility. Because the press leads public thought, the responsibility of the press is to lead public thought in a positive direction. Without that moral compass, the press leads the public into a self-defeating spiral of negativity and fear.
By reporting on the positive angle, the press inspires hope, innovation, and growth. If we’re forcing Americans to watch the news in the airport, then it shouldn’t be CNN. It should be PNN.
How We’re Helping
At Media Shower, we’re in the business of content marketing: we help companies create great content for their websites and blogs to help them attract more customers. We train our writers and editors to focus on creating positive content, because we know that our clients will grow faster when customers view them positively.
Here are a few of the guidelines we give our writers and editors, which I’m sharing freely, so they can be copied by other media outlets:
- Focus on positive headlines. Avoid headlines that create fear, uncertainty, or doubt. “5 Easy Ways to Keep Your Home Secure” is better than “5 Ways Burglars Can Attack You While You Sleep.”
- Find the positive angle to negative news. Be clear-eyed about disasters, crime, and war, but look for the uplifting angle: the heroes to be celebrated, the innovations that could eliminate future tragedies.
- Tell inspiring stories: Look for the personal stories of triumph and success. Tell these stories in a way that makes us care. Inspire us to do the same.
- Report on positive trends: There are always data points to show us where things are getting better. Find the statistics that show us that the glass is half full — and getting fuller.
- Put it in positive perspective: Remind us how far we’ve come. Show us the long-term progress that humans have made. Keep us focused on the long game, and help us keep negative news in perspective.
It takes courage to remain positive in the face of persistent negativity. It takes strength. But there is strength in numbers, so I invite you to join me. When you write, stay focused on the positive angle. When you post to social media, share content that uplifts and inspires. Sow seeds of hope.
Post by post, the Positive News Network will eventually become a reality. Of that, I am positive.
Sir John Hargrave is CEO of Media Shower, and the author of Mind Hacking: How to Change Your Mind for Good in 21 Days, with a perfect five-star reader rating on Amazon.com.