The negativity bias in the news is causing social harm. But journalism can change, and news consumers have the power to help make this happen, says Jodie Jackson. Here, she shares her story of how she came to understand the impact of the news and create a healthier relationship with it
Not long after my first child, Ariana, was born last year, my mother-in-law, Eva, told me she was worried about the world that Ariana will grow up in. “It is so much more dangerous than when I was young”, she said.
Eva was born during the second world war. Since then, globally, we have become more prosperous, with improved health, better technology, better sanitation, higher IQs, a lower rate of child mortality, fewer deaths from conflict, fewer homicides and there has been a reduction in overall levels of crime. So why would Eva think that the world is more dangerous now, than 70 years ago?
Over the last seven years, I’ve been researching the psychological impact that the news has upon people. I’ve looked into how it affects us mentally and socially, how it shapes our opinions about the state of the world, and how it influences the way we see ourselves and other people.
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My response to Eva was to suggest that her belief – that the world is more dangerous than it used to be – lies in her perception. And that this is a perception created not through experience but by news stories. Because, if I ask her to think strictly of her own actual experience of the world, she would agree that overall things have improved. Her belief that things have got worse is not uninformed – it’s not that the news stories that have contributed to this view were not true. But it is an ill-informed belief, and an incredibly common one.
My efforts to understand how the news affects us began when I had reached a point where I couldn’t bear to hear another news story. I would switch radio or TV stations as soon as I heard the bleeps before the news. Some people said my avoidance of the news was naive, weak or extreme. At first, this made me feel that perhaps I wasn’t strong enough to see the world in all of its ugly existence. But in fact, my experience of the world is that it’s a remarkable and complex place, filled with adventure, imagination and kindness as well as cruelty, suffering, and injustice. I refused to allow the narrow, selective picture that I was being given by the news, to define, for me, how life is.
I started digging deeper, asking questions such as: why is negative news so prevalent? Why do journalists focus so much on wrongdoing? Does the media create or reflect opinion? Does the media report news that is in the real interest of the public or in the interest of its own commercial success?
I had reached a point where I couldn’t bear to hear another news story
What I found is that news organisations are aggressively protective of what they do. If I questioned the media’s integrity, I would be pushed back by…
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