This is not about disasters, catastrophes or crises. This is not about the bad things that keep us up all night or about the bad things that make us anxious. This is about news. Good news.
“Food is to the body what information is to the mind. The information that we imbibe will turn into emotions, thoughts, actions and behaviors. The consequences are less visible but just as potent.” Back in April 2019, author and researcher Jodie Jackson put out a book called “You Are What You Read”, a powerful account of what goes on in the news – think news cycle, the stories that are includes in it and the effect that those same stories (most of them negative) have in individuals and society as a whole. After 181 pages, the book ended with a simple request: let’s not ignore the bad news; rather than that, let’s choose to not overlook the good ones. Because they exist – and are important. In 2015, Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan conducted an investigation with Arianna Huffington to better understand the influence that news have in our wellbeing. As they explained to the Harvard Business Review, the study consisted in bringing 110 people together and separate them into two different groups: one of the groups watched three minutes of bad news before 10 in the morning, while the second one watched three minutes of solution-focuses news, that is, stories of resilience that reinforce the idea that our behavior matters. “We were stunned by the results (we even reran the analyses to double-check it) because the effects were much more significant and dramatic than we expected,” the researchers said at the time, after concluding that “individuals who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning had a whopping 27% greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later compared to the positive condition.”
The complicated part of it all? It’s not just the type of content that has an influence on us – the number of news we are exposed to daily also has a number of effects on how we feel. “It's possibly a shameful thing to admit, especially given I am a journalist, but I am tired of the news. I am exhausted by it. Every morning, my radio alarm clock wakes me up with the headlines, and immediately I want to pull the duvet over my head and go back to sleep.” Bryony Gordon, who wrote these words in The Telegraph last December, is far from being the only one suffering from news fatigue – data from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows that 31% of Portuguese e 41% of Americans have avoided the news, while 58% of Brits say that the news make the feel sad or unwell; on the other hand, a study from the Pew Research Institute shows that 66% of Americans feel worn out by the amount of news there is. Unsurprisingly, all of this keeps happening as we speak, with an article from the Wired reporting that the world is already showing signs of coronavirus news fatigue.
So, what do we do when people are sick of the news? The answer seems to rest on a balanced perspective of reality, a constructive journalism, a content that is not only focused on problems, but also on solutions. Not only on that, but also on good news, the kind of news that warm our hearts, fill our veins with hope and make our eyes shine a little brighter with the best of humanity. News like the heartwarming gesture of two Australian children who gave out tissues and toilet paper to their elderly neighbors in Brisbane, in case any of them weren’t able to stock up those items as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Stories like the one behind the “Mind the gap” voice in Embankment, London, different from all the other in the subway system so that Margaret McCollum, Oswald Laurence’s widow, could still hear her husbands’ voice every day. Examples like the one of Jonathan Jones, a colorblind boy who, at the age of 12, is surprised by his also colorblind teacher with a pair of EnChroma glasses and is able to see color for the very first time. His reaction is well documented in a video that, before going viral and being featured in a number of news outlets, was first published by @goodnews_movement – an Instagram page that, alongside projects like Upworthy, Tank’s Good News and Some Good News, just to name a few, is entirely dedicated to positive news.
“I have been a network journalist for over 10 years and since my first aired story, I have always found myself drawn to stories showing the good in humanity,” says Michelle Figueroa, the founder of Good News Movement. “In fact, my very first story was for a show called Primer Impacto. It was about a toddler with skin as fragile as a butterfly’s (she has epidermolysis bullosa) whose attitude is so inspiring. I find there’s so much good in the World, much more than bad, and there wasn’t a journalist-run space for it.” A year and a half ago, Michelle made the decision to fill that same gap. “I decided to meet people where they are and since people are on their phones an average of 4 hours a day, why not go there?” The outcome couldn’t be more positive – an Instagram account followed by more than a million people, entirely dedicated to good news, kind acts and the heroes that, every day, make the world a better place. And isn’t that what we all need? “The number of followers has doubled since the outbreak hit the US, from 500,000 to over a million. I am receiving so many messages that even the simple act of sleeping 7 hours puts me behind and I find myself doing a morning catch-up session as I am receiving messages from all over the World and in different time zones. That’s a testament that even in the worst of times, good news is still overflowing, both in real life and my inbox!” Another project that saw its numbers rise was Upworthy, a good news outlet created back in 2012 with the goal of redirecting peoples’ attention to positive and inspiring stories. “In the last six weeks we've seen a crazy amount of traffic. The followers grew 65% in the last six weeks,” explains Lucia Knell, Director of Brand Partnerships. “At the beginning of March our Instagram had about 650 thousand followers, and by the last day of March we had a million. I think that the real reason for this is because the Internet, and specially now, is scary. The news is scary, and it's overwhelming, and yet this [picks her phone up] is the only thing we have to communicate, and it's the only thing we have to feel connected to what's going on.”
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(Berkeley, California): “Some of these signs have made me close to tears,” said postal worker of 24 years, Kerry Jones, who was blown away by the gesture. The Bateman neighborhood had planned the surprise by email and word of mouth the previous week and displayed signs everywhere possible: trees, windows, benches, mailboxes, railings— all in appreciation of Kerry, his kindness, dedication and his ever present “high-wattage smile.” ?????? ✉️❤️
If there was any question that people are looking for a more positive perspective, searches for “good news” on Google went up in March, and the trend is not slowing down. “There are so many [stories] coming out of Covid-19,” says Lucia. “Stories of people showing up for their neighbors in a time of crisis and coming together virtually and in safe ways to help people. For instance, neighbors volunteering to grocery shop for their elderly neighbors, or just communicating with them and saying, ‘What do you need, I'll go do that instead, you stay home’. The same thing with how communities are rallying for hospitals, doctor and nurses right now, sending supplies, support them in any way they can. (…) We are being flooded in our e-mails and DMs with stories like, ‘I found this amazing note for a postal worker’ or ‘We left these things out, like hand sanitizer, for our local postal worker’. Stuff like that is what's really resonating right now.” Stories that, Michelle argues, make all the difference when it comes to our mental diet. “If we consume only the bad, we won’t feel good and weighed down. If we nourish ourselves with the good in the world, we’ll feel positive, uplifted and inspired,” the founder of Good News Movement says. “In these times, we are confined to our homes, it can be easy to be anxious with uncertainty, but my page has served as solace that together we can get through this.”
Michelle’s opinion is also shared by Lucia Knell. “I think people are needing reminders to quell their anxieties about this, that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that this isn't going to last forever. “Subscribing to a channel like Upworthy, you know that you're going to get daily doses of positivity and daily doses of optimism in a time when we really, really need it. Now more than ever the brand seems to be providing a critical service.” A service that is not only crucial from a mental health perspective, but also crucial to remind us, as Lucia points out, or our shared global family. “This pandemic is a global experience, unlike anything we've ever seen. No one really knows what to do or how to handle this, and we are a global brand, so if we can create a shared sense of solidarity and community by showing the Italians singing on their balconies, and folks in Portugal doing their thing, and people in Brooklyn coming together in their own way, it makes you feel part of a human family. And that's what really helps people feel more connected to others while they are in isolation.”
For Michelle, this sense of community is very much alive in Good News Movement. “Last month, I did a positivity campaign to celebrate 1 million followers where people from all over the world said, ‘I am good news movement because WE are the good news.’ It’s interesting: people often look elsewhere for good news – on the TV or in the newspaper, but people themselves are the good news…. no matter where we are, or our circumstances, we are capable of being and creating good news. It may sound cliché, but the change does indeed start with each of us.” And she goes on, saying: “The word ‘movement’ is in the title because it truly is a collective effort. Someone asked me how many people are on my team and I answered 1 million. People send in their stories or stories of their neighbors, friends, classmates and this platform amplifies stories from their neighborhood to the world. I receive messages of support on a daily basis – people thanking me for lifting up their spirits or inspiring them to do an act of kindness which truly is the best compensation for me.”
And that’s the magic of good news: the ability to create a wave of positivity, foster a global community and grow empathy in a land of division. “It’s funny,” says Lucia. “We always talk about how we have the friendliest comment section on the Internet. Because it's so supportive and uplifting. (…) I think people have carved out a sacred space on the Internet, as I call, for purely supportive, community-oriented people, it just happens to be online. So, it's like creating a virtual community of people that feel included, you know, it's a very inclusive space, it's a very positive, fun and meaningful space for people to find community. I think the Upworthy followers feel very connected to one another, feel very connected to the brand.” And when media giants like The New York Times and The Guardian create their own spaces for good news, you know you’re on the right side of history. “I think that online publications are starting to understand that this is not just like a throwaway, it's not just a fun project, it's actually a critical part of news consumption, and especially in the age of the Internet when things are moving so quickly,” Lucia says. “You go on your Twitter feed and you're just getting bombarded with information. And then there’s cancel culture, it's just so awful, it's like using the Internet to take people down. And so, I think it's almost like this movement of counteracting the bad on the Internet and starting to infiltrate the newsfeed with good. I hope we're going to see more and more of it, and I hope we'll start to see more of it in print publications, like magazines, and newspapers, and things where people consume information, because from a mental health standpoint, we need it. We need news that's not going to make us feel depressed all the time.”
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More than that, we need the snowball effect that good news has. “Humans, for the most part, are wired to be compassionate and want to help,” Michelle Figueroa says. “Good News Movement is a platform to share the good news but it’s also a vehicle to connect those who need help with those who want to help. I feel that people want to help but sometimes don’t know how to go about it. One time, a boy with autism in Florida asked his mom if anyone would like him and, with permission of the mom, posted about it and asked for cards. The boy received hundreds of cards and gifts from @goodnews_movement followers.”
When I ask Lucia, what has been the best lesson she learnt from Upworthy, her response is quite similar to Michelle’s experience. “People want to help. People want to understand how they can help. Entities like our have a responsibility to help people get there, like providing resources and tools to help people help.” Besides that, she says, “it's so inspiring to see how contagious doing good is” and notice the influence that seeing someone else’s example can have on us. “. We've always known this, but especially now during Covid, it's been amazing to see how it's almost a chain reaction of good when one person starts it, or one community starts it, because then other people are like, ‘Oh, I can do that in my town, too.’ People in our page all the time use the phrase, ‘My faith in humanity restored’, it's like, all hope was lost but now I'm on Upworthy's page and I believe in humanity again [laughs]. You know, people are ready for this type of news and I think that when all this is done it's going to shift the way we live and it's going to shift the way we think about the value in life and the short time we have in life, and hopefully channeling that to do some good in their neighborhood. I think it's going to become clear that that's more important than ever.”