In an age of relentless negative news, stories of positive and inspiring action are essential to driving sustainable change.
“If it bleeds it leads.” The media’s inclination toward negative news isn’t new. But combine it with modern information overload, overlay the effects of a global pandemic, and it can soon feel quite oppressive.
Contributing to the picture is an upsurge in news on sustainability challenges. Critical research on the health of our planet and population is increasingly making headlines, revealing alarming trends. To make up for lost time, scientists and journalists are doing what is urgently necessary: showing us the immense damage that results from over a century of operating within a runaway, linear economy.
The message is clear: urgent change is needed. But rather than sparking positive action, the news can create, for many, a sense of anger, anxiety, and overwhelm with little hope of how we might turn things around. According to the 2019 Reuters Digital News Report, 39% of people think the news portrays events too negatively, and 32% actively avoid the news, mostly because it has a negative effect on their mood.
Can we build a society of informed global citizens if people are choosing to disengage? How do we find the balance between the depression-inducing stream of news that hits our every device each morning, while staying informed – and engaged – on what’s happening in the world? Many are acknowledging that we need to shift into an era of optimism and possibility.
Envisioning a positive future
“Everybody’s saying it: we need a new economic story, a narrative of our shared economic future that is fit for the twenty-first century,” writes Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics. Raworth is joined by many others in calling for a new way of envisioning our future. Research points to peoples’ need to identify and connect with a new story, and to envision themselves playing a role in the solution.
As communicators, as leaders, as citizens, we all have a responsibility to drive this transformation.
As sustainability practitioners, visioning can play a central role in helping us and those we work with to completely rethink how their organizations might function in a truly sustainable and circular way. Case studies of pioneering people and organizations can help to showcase immediate and tangible action, while creative storytelling and visualization can help us to imagine the possibilities of what hasn’t yet been done before.
In the media, a shift towards more constructive content is emerging on a sliding scale, from light touch ‘good news’ curation, to powerful solutions journalism or constructive journalism with the deliberate aim of driving more effective citizenship. Writers of the latter two concepts warn us not to confuse these with general ‘feel-good’ storytelling, which they argue can lack rigorous, evidence-based foundations and falsely simplify complex systemic issues. Our team would agree: timely, fact-based information is a critical leverage point in driving systems change, and we certainly shouldn’t sugarcoat important inevitabilities.
However, if what’s to be expected from the news is a full, accurate picture of what’s going on in the world, then there’s no doubt ‘the good’ is currently under-represented. Considering just how far across to the dark side we’ve come, is there perhaps room for a bigger-than-average nudge in the opposite direction?
A good dose
A number of news players, both new and established, are emerging with the promise of a focus on solutions:
The Correspondent: “News as we know it leaves us cynical, divided, and less informed. Together, we can change that,” says The Correspondent. Their answer to the problem? Unbreaking News. It’s a member-funded platform, but you can get a sneak peek of their content before you commit.
Guardian’s “The Upside”: “Journalism that seeks out answers, solutions, movements and initiatives to address the biggest problems besetting the world”. The Guardian frames this series as a necessary antidote to the relentless focus on the negative; an attempt to show there is plenty of hope. Sign up to their newsletter to get a weekly round-up of the good stuff.
Positive News: Self-proclaimed pioneers of constructive journalism, Positive News describes itself as “the first media organisation in the world that is dedicated to quality, independent reporting about what’s going right.” To boot, they’re also testing new forms of governance: as a community benefit society (a form of co-op), they’re invested in by more than 1,500 people in 33 countries, who each have equal influence. The directors are elected by and from the community of co-owners and any surplus made is reinvested in their journalism.
Future Crunch: “If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we have to change the stories we tell ourselves.” FutureCrunch curates good news from every corner of the planet, and shares it via their email newsletter and social media channels. Their email newsletter comes out every two weeks.
BBC’s “People Fixing the World” Podcast: “Brilliant solutions to the world’s problems. We meet people with ideas to make the world a better place and investigate whether they work.” This weekly podcast (and YouTube channel) by the BBC is a good one for the morning commute.
Beautiful news: This one is all about the visuals: “A collection of good news, positive trends, uplifting statistics and facts — all beautifully visualized by Information is Beautiful. They’re releasing a chart every day for a year to move our attention to more positive thought. A caveat: while beautifully presented, some of it is from a couple of months or even years passed – so anything time-sensitive – be sure to check the source.
New York Times’ “Fixes” Column: “Fixes looks at solutions to social problems and why they work.” A subsection of the New York Times’ opinion section, Fixes focuses on a broad range of content, from anti-drug campaigns to fighting the stigma of HIV.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the solutions journalism movement, explore the UK’s Constructive Journalism Project, the US’ Solutions Journalism Network, or Denmark’s Constructive Institute.
Do you have further thoughts or ideas on this topic? We’d love to hear them. Drop [email protected] a mail.
This article was updated on 3 May 2020.