The power of positive news: Reflecting on tragedy coverage

Elika Roohi/Sun Star Editor-in-Chief
April 23, 2013

Journalists are in the business of telling important stories–often sad ones.  This was a week full of sad stories.

Starting on Monday with the horrific Boston Marathon bombings, the week quickly dissolved into rumors, chaos and hurt that made all of it worse. We’re a nation who’s history has been irreparably damaged by all the tragedy we’ve seen in recent years, but one who can still feel pain.

I started this editorial by googling “good news in the world.”  Not much turned up.  There was a website with an overwhelmingly neon design saying they were dedicated to positive, compelling stories and a top 10 list of good things that happened in the past week from a Time Magazine blog.  There was also a Buzzfeed article listing the 36 absolute best things in the world, including dipping your hand into a bag of uncooked rice and wearing shorts for the first time after winter ends.

There’s this saying for broadcast journalists: if it bleeds it leads.  Somehow this became the mantra of the mass media, and it’s not like there’s a dearth of tragic news to cover. According to Psychology Today, bad news outweighs good news by as many as 17 negative reports to every positive piece.

A professor at University of California Irvine studied the effects of graphic images after 9/11 and the Iraq War.  According to the Atlantic, the study found that people who watched more than four hours of TV coverage a day in the weeks following both tragedies reported PTSD symptoms.  There’s no benefits whatsoever to repeatedly looking at horrific images, according to the UC Irvine professor.

We’re fascinated by tragedy, but in reality we crave positivity.  There was a popular graphic being shared this week quoting Mr. Rogers saying, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.'”

Mixed in the incorrect accusations and the constant updates on the police chase and Boston lock down, there were stories of people helping each other.  Good ol’ Mr. Rogers is still looking out for our well-being.

A British marathoner who had been training for the Boston Marathon for two years had just crossed the finish line when she heard the explosions.  She then ran another mile–after the previous 26.2 miles–to carry her daughter to safety, the BBC said.

When the race was diverted away from the finish line, people along the route brought out water and food for the tired, cold, scared runners.  Boston residents offered the racers blankets, jackets, money and food, said boston.com.

According to Boston Magazine, the day after the bombings Boston residents organized treks along the marathon route to honor and support the victims.  The Boston Marathon is the oldest annual marathon in the world at 117 years old, and Bostonians aren’t letting this tragedy stop it.

This weekend, the Sun Star staff traveled to Anchorage for the annual Alaska Press Club conference.  It’s been a newspaper tradition for a while here, and as usual it was a great experience learning from both old and young journalists in the field.  One of the presenters was Ann Friedman, a journalist I really admire.  Friedman used to be the executive editor of GOOD and she said this weekend that working there made her realize people really have an appetite for positive stories.

Just because journalists are in the business of telling stories doesn’t mean they all have to be sad ones.  A while back, I told a friend that I wanted to grow up to be the NPR World Hope Correspondent.  It was a joke, but I think the world needs more coverage of, as Mr. Rogers put it, the helpers.

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