How changing your media diet can change the world

Op-ed: Jodie Jackson has conducted research on the psychological impact of news information on the reader, and in particular the role of positive news and its perceived effects. Do you ever get that feeling of overwhelming hopelessness, the moment you switch off the evening news? Do you get sucked into a state of sadness about the state of the world we live in, without any hope for its future? Does it make you want to ignore the headlines, and also leave you feeling guilty for not engaging? Is there, deep down, a nagging feeling that there must be another side of the story too – one that doesn’t get reported? Then bear with me, because there is good news.

I wondered all of the above when I first started researching the impact of news on our well-being. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I quickly learned that the news, quite literally, makes us miserable. At best, it leaves us indifferent, but more often than not, it triggers low mood and a passiveness that can even lead to anxiety and depression.

Things got more interesting, however, when I looked into the effects of news about things that were not negative. Stories about progress and possibility, about hope and optimism. It turns out such stories motivate us. They kick us into gear and play into our natural desire to care. As a force for inspiration, the news can, in fact, be hugely powerful. But it requires us to radically change our media diet.

There are thousands of events happening daily, of which only a selected few are considered “newsworthy”. It may not be a surprise to know that stories most often and prominently featured focus on war, corruption, scandal, murder, famine, and natural disasters.

“The news is not a reflection of everything that goes on in the world; it is a reflection of everything that goes wrong in the world”.

Many news professionals and news consumers will tell you that there are good reasons for this. Exposing injustices has been vital in helping us understand, confront and correct problems, enabling society to progress. But in some ways, negative news has become a victim of its own success. The excessive wave of negativity has brought us to a tipping point, moving the news from being helpful to becoming harmful. News outlets are losing readers and viewers every day. People are switching off.

Both editors and audiences are starting to realize that helplessness, along with many of our other psychological responses to our media intake, is a learned mental state. It can just as easily be unlearned, but we need different information. This is where solutions-focused news comes in.

Reporting constructively on both problems and solutions brings us balance and perspective. This balance is useful in creating context and helps readers understand what a story means, both in terms of its failings and opportunities. It has also been shown to reduce anxiety, increase engagement, improve our mood and improve our social relationships. Most importantly, it can help us feel optimistic, hopeful and empowered.

Sometimes, we simply do need to see it to believe it.

Jodie Jackson is author of ‘You Are What You Read: Why Changing Your Media Diet Can Change the World’, which will be published by Unbound on 4 April . You can pre-order a copy here.

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