Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

Letter from the editor: Positive and negative news: finding a balance

Posted on April 02, 2018 in News
By USM Free Press

By Julie Pike, editor-in-chief

When you first open a newspaper, what are your eyes drawn to first?

During a panel at our recent Journalism Workshop event, one of the topics that came up was the question of whether news outlets focus too much on negative stories. Most often the most eye-catching stories are going to be the ones that are shocking to an audience, such as a fire, a crime or a car accident. Sometimes it seems like these are the only stories that are reported on, the ones about depressing or terrible events. News outlets are simply doing their job by reporting the news. However, it’s been found that people are more drawn to negative stories than they are to positive ones.

In 2014, BBC reported about a study done at McGill University in Canada. Researchers asked participants to come in for a test of eye tracking. They observed how the participants’ eyes moved, and where they moved to, while they browsed a news website. They were asked to actually read some of the articles, but that it didn’t matter which ones they chose to read. They found that a majority of participants chose stories with a negative tone, with topics such as corruption, setbacks or hypocrisy. Yet during a questionnaire at the end of the study, when asked participants responded that they preferred reading about good news and thought that the media was too focused on negative stories.

This study provided evidence of what psychologists call “negativity bias.” This means that topics of a more negative nature have a greater effect on a person’s psychological state. The study emphasized that people respond quicker to negative words. The researchers also brought up another idea that a majority of people have a positive attitude, so seeing negative headlines in a newspaper are surprising to them, therefore they are drawn to read it.

In light of this, I think it’s important for news outlets to also feature stories with a positive message. I think readers would enjoy a good balance of breaking news along with some uplifting articles to leave them in a better mood. With this in mind, I created a staple news feature that starts this week called “Sunny Side Up.” In each issue going forward our readers can read about a positive or inspiring story.

This addition, however, will not take away from our duty as reporters to share breaking news with our community at USM. I simply want our readers to have something that will cheer them up at the beginning of their week. This piece may cover a story about USM, the state of Maine, our country or even worldwide news, anything that will leave readers feeling hopeful. Amidst the barrage of news we see every day reporting on abuse, sex crimes, murders and so on, we need to hear about some good in the world.

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