David Bouchier: Looking For The Good News

Dec 17, 2018

This is celebrated as the season of good news, and nobody can deny that we need some of that. We’ve certainly had plenty of bad news lately. But on the other hand we’ve had no shortage of bad news ever since I was born, starting with World War II, then the Cold War, when for more than forty years we had the daily expectation of being bombed into radioactive dust by those wicked communists. Oddly enough, they never got around to it. 

Our minds and sometimes our lives were disturbed up by wars in Korea, Vietnam, Granada, Libya, Panama, and famines and civil wars all over the globe. We had the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the apparently perpetual war in Afghanistan, and Iraq Wars I and II, scandals and impeachments, economic crashes and climate change. When human ingenuity failed, nature could always be relied upon to deliver, so we also had Katrina, Sandy, and all sorts of dramatic weather. There was, literally, never a dull moment. The previous five hundred years have been much the same.

It’s an odd fact that we seem to prefer bad news. Watch your family when the TV is on. A disaster, even a small one, grabs everybody’s attention. A happy human interest story sends them all drifting off into the kitchen. The Fox TV channel is an extreme example. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in media studies to figure out their game: threats, fear, mysteries, conspiracies, illegal aliens, and ideally all five at once. It’s a simple-minded trick, but it works.

In some ways the sameness of all this bad news is soothing, like an old familiar song. Imagine waking up to stories of corporate generosity, government honesty, celebrity modesty, and peace and goodwill among men. It would be traumatic, as if we had suddenly been transported to an alien planet. Consider these imaginary headlines: “Mueller report exonerates all participants in 2016 election of any wrongdoing.”  “Congressional leaders agree to cooperate for the common good.” “All sides in the Afghan War Endorse Democracy Peace and Love.” Any newspaper or TV station that tried to survive on headlines like this would be out of business in a week.

But, you know, I suspect there is really as much good news as bad news. We just don’t hear about it, or even think of it as news. Millions of people are honest, generous, brave and self-sacrificing, all the time, but without boasting about it, so they fall below the radar. Over the decades dozens of well-meaning entrepreneurs have launched “Good News” papers, TV channels, and websites. But virtually all of them sank without a trace. 

From time to time, and especially at this time of year, we do see a few happy and uplifting stories of rescue, recovery, or survival. But the bottom line for the mass media is that in order to report a small amount of good news, they first have to report a very large amount of bad news to attract an audience. And, if we prefer the cloud to the silver lining, that’s our problem.

Copyright: David Bouchier