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"Turn Down the News"

by Victor Perton, Chief Optimism Officer, The Centre for Optimism

For decades while in politics, I was fixed into a daily cycle of listening to the news and responding by way of press release and commentary.  While I was able to maintain my optimistic nature in the face of the pessimism of the daily news, it is undoubtedly a cause of pessimism, cynicism and even depression for many people.

As the President of Envision Kindness Dr David Fryburg said “Every day, people are exposed to negative images, stories, and experiences, We know that this exposure is stressful to the viewer—it causes anger, anxiety, depression, and can affect behavior, disconnecting people from one another.

Over the last 50 years, the news has become increasingly negative.  Most newsrooms operate under three principle editorial rules, “if it bleeds it leads,” “Bad News is Good News” and emphasise stories which sow “dissension, discord and disharmony.”  On television news, optimistic news is generally restricted to the fluffy animal story after the weather or during sports news.

The author Pico Iyer wrote, “So why am I an optimist? Partly because I’ve been working in the mainstream media for 35 years now, and I know not to trust it. It’s always a single act of brutality that captures headlines, while a hundred acts of everyday kindness are ignored, and more and more, in the global neighborhood, our “news” is just the equivalent of small-town gossip. We’re living in the age of Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama and more charitable efforts than ever before, but it’ll always be the Las Vegas gunman or the ISIS operative with a knife who knows how to dominate our attention. My optimism comes from a deeper source, though, than simply knowing that what we hear and read isn’t a fair register of what is really happening. As a traveller, I witness everyday people whose lives are much more nuanced and often brighter than our notions of them."

Professor Steven Pinker, Harvard University Professor of Psychology writes,  the "disconnect originates in the nature of news. News is about what happens, not what doesn’t happen, so it features sudden and upsetting events like fires, plant closings, rampage shootings and shark attacks. Most positive developments are not camera-friendly, and they aren’t built in a day. You never see a headline about a country that is not at war, or a city that has not been attacked by terrorists–or the fact that since yesterday, 180,000 people have escaped extreme poverty.  The bad habits of media in turn  ring out the worst in human cognition. Our intuitions about risk are driven not by statistics but by images and stories. People rank tornadoes (which kill dozens of Americans a year) as more dangerous than asthma (which kills thousands), presumably because tornadoes make for better television. It’s easy to see how this cognitive bias–stoked by the news policy “If it bleeds, it leads”–could make people conclude the worst about where the world is heading."

Can we change the News Media?

Hans Rosling is wise on this question.  Hans wrote, "we have to seek to understand why journalists have a distorted worldview (answer: because they are human beings, with dramatic instincts) and what systemic factors encourage them to produce skewed and overdramatic news (at least part of the answer: they must compete for their consumers’ attention or lose their jobs). When we understand this we will realize that it is completely unrealistic and unfair to call for the media to change in this way or that so that it can provide us with a better reflection of reality. Reflecting reality is not something the media can be expected to do. You should not expect the media to provide you with a fact-based worldview any more than you would think it reasonable to use a set of holiday snaps of Berlin as your GPS system to help you navigate around the city."

What do do?

Good advice is to stay aware, read, listen or watch the news maybe once or twice a day rather than every hour or several times a day, and rely on other sources of information for your viewing and reading.  Look for the good in what you read.  Look for the solutions and opportunities.

I recommend people don’t listen to the news early in the morning (unless you need to) and, in particular, people should not use the news as an alarm clock.  Wake up to positive thoughts or silence. Read your gratitude journal.

I would also advise reducing your reliance on television, radio and newspaper “news.”  I use Google alerts and newsletter subscriptions to ensure that the positive news I am seeking gets to my inbox and to my attention.  I use filters and lists to follow positive news sources on Twitter and other social media.

As Raya Bidshahri, Founder & CEO of Awecademy commends, “We can’t let negative headlines and the media shape our perception of ourselves as a species, and the vision we have for the future. As legendary astronomer Carl Sagan said, “For all of our failings, despite our limitations and fallibility, we humans are capable of greatness.” Hollywood likes to paint disproportionately dystopian visions of the world, and while those are possible futures, we can and must also imagine a future of humanity where we live in abundance, prosperity, and transcendence. We can’t expect current innovators and future generations to make this positive vision a reality if they believe our species is doomed for failure. It inspires us to continue to contribute to human progress and feel that we can push humanity forward. It’s absolutely critical that our journalists cover the many challenges, threats, and issues in our world today. But just as we report the significant negative news in the world, we must also continue to highlight humanity’s accomplishments. After all, how can our youth grow up believing they can have a positive impact on the world if the news is suggesting otherwise?”

Experiment: Don’t listen to or read the news till you leave for work.  Try this for one week.  Give your family or housemates permission to share positive stories they read or hear.  Let me know how the experiment goes – would you recommend it to others?

Experiment: Limit yourself to listening to or watching the news once a day.  Let me know how the experiment goes – would you recommend it to others?


Eleanor Margolis

"I’m doing everything I can to stay optimistic: it’s the best response to a pandemic. Seeking out positive news stories & avoiding doom scrolling is vital for my mental health and, sometimes, you just have to look on the bright side."

https://inews.co.uk/opinion/stay-optimistic-mental-health-pandemic-663639

Jack McCall: Remaining optimistic in our pessimistic times

"I have noticed with the passing of the years that a creeping pessimism seems to be permeating our society. This has been brought on, in no small part, by a national media which consistently presents man at his worst. Sadly, much of the buying public seems to have an insatiable appetite for the gruesome, mysterious and sensational."

 Mike Buchanan, Founder of Positively Leading 

"Limit your access to social media and news: listen to or read it once a day to keep informed and so that you are not constantly bombarded with bad news – switch off your news feeds, talk radio and email alerts."

Poet Roger McGough

"A torrent of bad news overwhelms us, our brains cower and our eyes can see no further than the next doom-ridden headline. Other people’s bad news becomes ours, weighed down with empathy, we must opt for optimism. “Keeping your mind off things” is really part of the challenge, not only for the poet, but for us all."

Anthony Chiminello, Director - Bridgeworld International

"Bad news is another medium of brainwashing our beliefs into a life of pessimism. Remember we have the power of CHOICE to keep our mind ON the good things and OFF the bad things."

Bernadette Russell in "How to be hopeful: “The future is not yet written and we all have the power to shape it”

"if the news is getting you down, help yourself by limiting your consumption to 10 minutes a day, and actively seek out those news sources that are telling the stories of active hope, positive innovation and triumph over adversity (you will find them, they are out there). Organisations like Positive News are providing us with light in the darkness, seek them out and allow yourself to be inspired by them. Whatever is diminishing your hope, know you are not alone, and that there is somebody out there, somewhere, working towards improving that situation. You just have to do a little work sometimes to find them."

Angela Priestly

"Keep watching the news, but get strategic.  One of the simplest ways to personally move your attention from some of the difficulties going on in the world is to turn the news off.  Cut the notifications on your phone.  Get off Twitter and unsubscribe to all news-related publications. It’s a step that’s available, if you really need it.

But staying on top of what’s going on in your industry, your region and the world is important. Not only for your job, but also for making sense of the current climate and ensuring you’re on top of the latest health and safety information.

So don’t turn off the news but if needed, you might want to try one or all of the following:

  1. Stick to specific and trusted news sources, rather than ‘surfing’ for information;
  2. Consume news during a set window of time each day – so you get your information, absorb it and then move on;
  3. Quit going through the comments and other social media posts people are making about news events. These are mostly going to be negative and often point to worst-case scenarios;
  4. Make time and space for reading positive news stories. These stories exist, they just don’t get the attention-grabbing headlines;
  5. Subscribe to industry and business publications, where you can keep on top of news key to your work, and also aim to access and celebrate some of the wins from those in fields and work that are relevant to you.


Rosling, Hans; Rönnlund, Anna Rosling; Rosling, Ola in Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

"The media cannot resist tapping into our fear instinct. It is such an easy way to grab our attention. In fact the biggest stories are often those that trigger more than one type of fear. Kidnappings and plane crashes, for example, each combine the fear of harm and the fear of captivity. Earthquake victims trapped under collapsed buildings are both hurt and trapped, and get more attention than regular earthquake victims. The drama is so much stronger when multiple fears are triggered. Yet here’s the paradox: the image of a dangerous world has never been broadcast more effectively than it is now, while the world has never been less violent and more safe. Fears that once helped keep our ancestors alive, today help keep journalists employed. It isn’t the journalists’ fault and we shouldn’t expect them to change. It isn’t driven by “media logic” among the producers so much as by “attention logic” in the heads of the consumers...

"we have to seek to understand why journalists have a distorted worldview (answer: because they are human beings, with dramatic instincts) and what systemic factors encourage them to produce skewed and overdramatic news (at least part of the answer: they must compete for their consumers’ attention or lose their jobs). When we understand this we will realize that it is completely unrealistic and unfair to call for the media to change in this way or that so that it can provide us with a better reflection of reality. Reflecting reality is not something the media can be expected to do. You should not expect the media to provide you with a fact-based worldview any more than you would think it reasonable to use a set of holiday snaps of Berlin as your GPS system to help you navigate around the city."



Dr. Diana Brecher

“One way to remain optimistic nowadays is to focus our attention on the good news, such as the development of the vaccine, and limit our consumption of negative news from the media when we feel more vulnerable, anxious, or sad. It is OK to not watch TV or read the newspaper for a few days to protect our mental health"

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