If you are depressed from reading the daily news, it’s nothing new – “if it bleeds, it leads” as an editorial philosophy that much predates the Trump presidency or for that matter the war in Iraq. We have been getting inundated with bad news for a long time. There are three reasons for this: firstly, there is genuinely a lot of bad stuff always happening around the world. We’re no angels, and this is no paradise; in fact, we’re quite far to the east of Eden by now. Secondly, there is a view, quite accurate in many regards, that wars, disasters, crime, scandal and depravity make for more interesting reading and viewing than cute puppies and a cure for cancer. Thirdly, there is the bias: if you are against someone/something, you will select the more negative perspectives and skew the reporting to fit with your agenda. And most journalists do indeed have agendas; many see themselves not as reporters but crusaders, their role not to observe but participate and change outcomes. This is one reason why 90 per cent of the networks’ coverage of Trump is negative. That makes him almost “literally Hitler”.
Anyway, if you are tired of the depressing drumbeat of the media there is now a solution (apart from tuning out):
Google has launched a brand new feature for its artificially intelligent Google Assistant that’s designed to cheer people up by filtering negative news.
Simply ask your phone (or the Google Home speaker) to ‘tell me something good’ and you’ll be given a nice summary of positive stories about people solving real problems.
‘These days we’re consuming more news than ever, and sometimes, it can feel like there are only problems out there,’ explained Ryan Burke, a creative producer at Google’s Creative Lab.
‘But the fact is, there is a plethora of ‘good news’ happening, and we’re not talking about unlikely animal friendships or random acts of kindness.
‘Real people are making progress solving real issues—and hearing about those stories is a crucial part of a balanced media diet.’
The stories come from a wide range of media outlets, curated and summarised by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Solutions Journalism Network organisation.
‘Solutions journalism empowers and energises audiences, helping to combat negative news fatigue,’ said Burke.
If only this cute feature existed in 2003 and onward, news consumers could have just asked “Hey Google, tell me some good news from Iraq” and I wouldn’t have had to in a very old fashioned and non-algorithmic way compile my fortnightly “Good News from Iraq” (and monthly “Good News from Afghanistan”) digests, trying to bring together all the positive developments that the media didn’t report, underplayed, or drowned in the avalanche of negativity. The purpose of this exercise was to demonstrate the clear anti-war bias in the media; it certainly wasn’t to deny all the bad things, of which they were plenty, but to paint a more balanced and nuanced picture of the situation on the ground than one could get from following the mainstream media coverage. This was what those serving in Iraq and their families back home were telling me, that the almost completely one-sided reporting bore no resemblance to what the non-journalists were seeing. Iraq was and remains a controversial topic, and people will continue to have radically differing opinions on the wisdom of deposing Saddam Hussein, the conduct of the occupation, and the ultimate calculus of whether it was worth all the blood and treasure. Regardless of where on the spectrum your opinion falls, I understand all the pro and con arguments but continue to maintain that the media prejudged the whole enterprise as a folly if not a crime and spent the subsequent years reporting in a way that fit the narrative. And Iraq, while very prominent, is hardly a unique example of media bias, which feeds negativity.
Despite gaining some momentary and minor internet notoriety for my “Good News” features, I am by nature negative and pessimistic. This all to often finds a reflection in what I write and how I write about it. This is perhaps another, the fourth, reason why there is so much focus on the bad wherever you look, thought I suspect it’s also the rarest one. At least I hope that news people in general are not as dark-glasses as I am. In any case, I’m also part of the problem. And I don’t want to be. Help me blog more about cute puppies and the cure for cancer. Please.