Why good news is harder to find than bad news

by Ken Sehested

In her recent address at the Conservative Political Action Conference, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch trotted out the usual sarcastic criticism of those calling for gun control legislation in the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. One thing she said, though, is spot on.

“Many in the legacy media love mass shootings. . . . Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you and many in the legacy media.”

It is most certainly true that the difference between tabloid-sensationalist journalism (the National Enquirers breed) and mainstream media lessens with every passing season. It’s not unlike how the Weather Channel loves extreme weather outbreaks. Disaster reporting of every sort plays to the human weakness for fascination with trauma—like rubberneckers on the highway slow down to gander at car wrecks.

The cynical (but still operative) maxim of journalism in deciding newsworthiness: If it bleeds, it leads.

But besides the exploitation of this human weakness, disasters are so much easier to notice than acts of actual significance. The premier beat of your local news reporting is tuned to emergency responder radio, aka, ambulance chasing. It just takes less work to spot these events. Finding and filming the good, the uplifting, the courageous, the hopeful, and the beneficial is more labor intensive and less scintillating.

I can testify that in compiling “Signs of the Times” I spend proportionately far more effort locating “good news” stories than bad. Generally speaking, when it comes to traffic lights, our complaints over red ones far exceeds our rejoicing at green ones. In our letters to the editor, you and I and everybody I know are more likely to take the trouble of registering a complaint than expressing gratitude.

Being able to be present both to the awful and the awesome currents of history is an essential practice of spiritual formation. Lament should not be suppressed any more than rejoicing neglected.

In recognition of these realities, this issue of “Signs of the Times” [22 March 2018, No. 156] focuses on some of the good news surrounding climate change responses—without any hint that there’s plenty of despairing news available.

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©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org