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Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

Good News Is No News?

Imagine opening your favorite newspaper (Times of Israel?) and catching this leading headline: “9.5 million Israelis yesterday enjoyed their uneventful day.” Not only would you scratch your head in puzzlement, but most probably would not bother continuing to read the item. After all, as the saying goes: “no news is good news,” so who wants to read or view “no news”?

Well, it turns out lots of people want to read “good news.”

That’s the good news. The other side of this coin – the bad news – is that an increasing number of potential news consumers are avoiding the news altogether precisely because it gets them too depressed. As recently found in an international survey – Israel not included (https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2022-06/Digital_News-Report_2022.pdf): “the proportion of news consumers who say they avoid news, often or sometimes, has increased sharply across countries. This type of selective avoidance has doubled in both Brazil (54%) and the UK (46%) over the last five years, with many respondents saying news has a negative effect on their mood.” Even worse for the future, “the longstanding criticism of the depressing or overwhelming nature of news persists among young people. For instance, in the UK, two-thirds (64%) of news avoiders under 35 say the news brings down their mood.”

The question that needs to be asked: is good news really “no news?” The answer should be clear: absolutely not. Of course, just like “bad news” it all depends on the nature of the “good news.” In both cases, if sensationalist or exotic human interest (“man attacks shark to save his child”) then that’s not very useful, especially in large doses. However, there is lots of important good news out there that needs to be covered, and not just in the back pages (or screen bottom). For example, I am willing to bet that few of you were apprised of what is easily the most important news of the week – and probably of the year: American scientists have for the first time ever managed to produce more energy from a fusion reaction than energy expended in bringing about the fusion (https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-scientists-announce-major-breakthrough-in-fusion-energy/). If that sounds “esoteric,” think again. This means that in the future, when all the other technological kinks are worked out (clearly doable but it will take time), the world will finally have virtually unlimited energy (hydrogen is hugely abundant: water, etc.) without any pollution whatsoever!

This is obviously not simply an economic or ecological issue. Think of the Middle East: what happens to regional geopolitics when the Arab oil producing countries no longer have something to sell? What happens to the price of Israel’s large natural gas deposits? True, this is not a problem of “tomorrow”; but energy policy being decided today has to take into account the energy situation in years to come.

So why do our news providers continue to produce negative news almost exclusively?

To a large extent “we” (the news consumers) are at fault. Our natural tendency, driven by evolution, is to be more interested in possible danger than in surrounding benefits. Way back when, if the soft noises in the forest were berries dropping down – well, that’s nice; but if they were the patter of a tiger’s movement, that’s really bad! So too, modern “tigers” are to be feared far more than some good “berries” are to be treasured – and the media, with their ears to consumer wants, are all too ready to provide that steady drumbeat of “danger around every corner.”

However, the contemporary situation constitutes a novum in world history – very different from any other prior period in human affairs. Even twenty years ago, most news consumers would get their daily news from a couple of sources (perhaps one newspaper and the evening news broadcast). Today we are all inundated by a flood of news on a minute-to-minute basis, from every direction: social networks, news aggregators (e.g., Google News; Facebook); email newsletters, blog reports, and still quite a lot of “legacy media” (TV, radio, newspapers). Such overload leads to avoidance, mainly because a steady drumbeat of bad news can be really depressing.

What to do? Recently, a new solution was introduced by a not so well-known news site, Pink News, that offers its online readers an option to see only “uplifting” stories i.e., the new feature allows users to choose to see only positive stories in their latest feed. That’s not necessarily a permanent choice but rather being able to take a break from negative news when readers feel they need it.

Mainstream news sources don’t have to go that far; but given this new “news psychology” situation – again, worldwide – it behooves them to start thinking about the important positive news that occurs on a daily basis, hardly reported these days. Among other things, this entails journalists and editors making a “mental switch”: good news is not no news!

Indeed, if any country could use such a change in news reporting it’s Israel – not only because it gets far too much negative press (even domestically), but because it has a huge amount of good news that potentially could (and should) be reported. For media that worry about declining audiences, that could provide even them with really good news.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published three books and 60 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book is VIRTUALITY AND HUMANITY: VIRTUAL PRACTICE AND ITS EVOLUTION FROM PRE-HISTORY TO THE 21ST CENTURY (Springer Nature, Dec. 2021): The book's description, substantive Preface and full Table of Contents can be freely accessed here: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-981-16-6526-4#toc. For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see: www.ProfSLW.com
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