Monday, July 23, 2007

Which Do You Want First? The Good News or the Bad News?

Bad news sells, plain and simple. The more outraged a population becomes due to a rogue political leader or celebrity drunkenness or a natural disaster, the more papers sold and the more news segments watched. It's rare that we find something positive in the news, especially with regard to communities of color and developing nations. Some may say that, if anything, this aspect of news reporting is helpful for people who identify with the aforementioned in that it reveals there is still much work to be done. It illuminates the factors in the daily lives of many that are very real and tangible beyond what's written on paper by someone else, usually someone estranged from the very situations they cover. If we were to cover more positive stories, however, there may be a phenomenon of people mentally justifying the tragedies about which they read on the next page. "See?" they will say, "they are happy. They are fine. They live in a wore-torn nation and can't vote, but at least they have time to do [insert positive activity or achievement here]!"

Clearly this thought pattern is problematic, and it is, sadly, an outcome reporters risk frequently when they try to break up their heavier articles with something light. But what's interesting about light stories is that they tend to humanize their subjects. If one is constantly seen as a victim or enabler of violence and injustice, the person, whether "good" or "bad," is dehumanized. Tales of tragedy often alienate an audience from the people whom they are reading about. The events take place far away and involve people who live different lives. We don't have landmines in our backyards. We have the right to vote. I can write this article without being arrested. Stories that convey stories of people who lack any sense of legal or financial luxuries often unintentionally "other" the subjects and their situations. It's more difficult to connect if you have rarely or, most likely, never have experienced what is being discussed. You can sympathize, acknowledging their issues, but it's often difficult to empathize, to connect with those being discussed and pain they are going through. Sharing in the grieving process is virtually impossible from a privileged standpoint, no matter how much you *think* you understand.

Happy stories, on the other hand, stories of achievement or talent or collaboration between groups or peace talks or the gaining of rights, we tend to understand on a different level, most likely because we have experienced something similar in our lifetime. We can connect with regard to the feeling of happiness in a way that many of us may not be able to with regard to immense loss or catastrophe. By providing stories that demonstrate a ray of light within a storm of darkness, we also take away a message about the considerable strength of people who may have lost everything, but who can somehow still remember to help others or to realize their dreams. Stories like this, while trivialized by some, can speak volumes for others. It shows the remarkable capacity for humans to look adversity in the face and still laugh despite its ugliness.

So while this short piece is not encouraging that we forget about or not read/report about times of trouble and situations that make us doubt humanity, as I feel they are incredibly necessary to remind us how far behind the world happens to be in providing justice, rights, and simply a better quality of life and access to resources for all of its inhabitants, not just those of us who got lucky or live privileged lives because our nations were built on the backs of others. Instead, I am encouraging you all to remember the positive because it's out there. It may be hidden from view for now, but when you least expect it, someone who does something amazing will end up front page news.


-Wendi Muse

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knicksgrl0917 said...
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