There is a broken triangle in my community – and in most communities around the world, in fact. The relationship between people, politics and the media is broken. Nobody is happy. Each one is dissatisfied with the other. And the trouble is, the breakdown is getting worse and worse. Our communities are as unhappy and as fearful as ever.
And yet we live in an incredible world in which every problem has been solved, or is in the process of being solved.
Based on the years I have spent looking into positive psychology and neuroscience, the media has a large role to play in this breakdown. Because of the online competition, media survival is getting tougher, so news outlets are having to work harder to stand still.
Our brains are hardwired for negativity and our newspapers and other media use this fact to help them sell advertising, to keep themselves in business. But this comes at a cost to society. Emerging research is starting to demonstrate that exposure to negative news is bad for mental health.
The information we consume influences how we feel. Facebook got into a lot of trouble by testing this hypothesis recently, after working out that their algorithms could influence mood. This shocked the world, but the truth is: information can be manipulated to evoke emotions like hatred, anger, depression and despair. The tabloid media has been deliberately doing this for decades, yet full transparency on this behaviour has not quite materialised.
In the meantime, society picks up the health bill for this problem. But more importantly, people are suffering unnecessarily because of this. The current mental health problem is an example of everything that is broken in the West. 1 in 4 people are mentally ill. Even more disturbing, only 1 in 4 people are thriving.
Media outlets need to understand that if they do not serve their communities by giving them what they need to create incredible lives and inspire action, then their communities will learn how replace the media. Either through the news they curate for themselves online, or through the development of community cooperatives and citizen journalists.
For any organisation to thrive, it has to serve all its stakeholders – and not just the shareholders. Where I live, that fact is enshrined in company law. News outlets are going to come under increasing pressure to understand their impact on the communities they serve. Otherwise, they will not survive.
The change is happening. Organisations like the Huffington Post are starting to see that positive articles that provide solutions are being shared 3 times more often than articles that are negative.
An emerging movement in journalism called Constructive Journalism has its roots in positive psychology. It’s not about wearing rose-tinted spectacles – the word ‘constructive’ is key. It’s about addressing the balance of news stories reported; avoiding sensationalism, shaming and victimisation. It’s about not belittling the guy who tried and failed. It’s about publishing balanced opinions and varied viewpoints to a story, with objectivity and factual information.
I welcome every effort to bring a more constructive form of journalism to the news we receive of home and abroad, to present a more honest view of things. This would go a long way in changing many people’s attitudes and perspectives for the better. I can’t wait for the shift to take place.
And the great thing is – this dialogue is now happening in my community of Guernsey. Our population is challenging our local media outlets to consider the negative impact they are making, and to look at the greater positive impact they could have on society.
Over the coming years, if news is presented with truth, positivity and hope, we will see a complete transformation in the health of our community because of this. Not only that – but through empathy and possibility, our journalists will have also inspired people to take on some of the toughest challenges at home and abroad.
And our politicians will go from being potentially persecuted and ridiculed by the media to being helped, encouraged and challenged to raise the bar much higher to create a better world.
The future is bright. If we all take part in creating it.
P.S. By way of an additional experiment to enhance the point, please let me know how this blog post makes you feel in the comments section below.