Bad news travels fast Good news takes the bus

Illustration by Nick Verdirame
Illustration by Nick Verdirame

“35 seconds — yes!” Hearing this, I quickly grab my phone and open my NYT Now app, eager to participate in a high intensity nightly competition with my roommate: racing to complete the New York Times mini crossword puzzle.

As the app launches and I scroll through eye-catching pictures, my thumb lingers over a few headlines. I see “Bad Loans Around the World Weigh on Growth,” “As Grilling Over Flint Water Begins, Partisan Divisions Surface,” and of course, the many on political controversies, even before I reach the puzzle icon halfway through the feed. Negative news stories cram together towards the top of the app, while more positive, or at least neutral, stories settle at the bottom. The latter stories on the page seem less likely to capture the same audience as the fear-inducing headlines.

Think about it: In nightly broadcast news, hard-hitting stories about terrorism, money, and politics dominate, but before the anchors tune out for the night, their solemn faces turn cheerful as they introduce a piece typically about animals, children, or another feel-good topic.

We live in a culture dependent on media, and yet what we largely see is bad news. In a Pew Research Center study about American news preferences, the top five categories of news that attract above-average attention from viewers include war/terrorism, bad weather, man-made and natural disasters, and money.

Part of this is psychology; we love bad news. An experiment at McGill University found further evidence for a previously proposed human “negativity bias,” which explains that we have a tendency to desire and remember bad news. Researchers showed participants a short video, then asked them what type of political news they would like to read the most. The results? Participants chose negative stories, but when asked, still maintained the belief that they prefer good news and that the media focuses too much on negative stories.

There’s another facet at play here; bad news sells. And there’s no doubt that, with dwindling audiences, many media outlets are forced to focus on bad news in the hopes that they can use the negativity bias to lure in audiences.

So what are we to do? Somewhere deep down, we crave bad news, but we also sense a vacuum of positive stories in the news as well. Unfortunately, there’s no way we can reroute mainstream media to cater towards both sides, but we can do something a little more personal, look on the bright side.

Over winter break, we may have all lost the Powerball, but we bonded with strangers in our attempts to do so. Donald Trump hosted a rally in Bernie’s Burlington, but the Kountry Kart Deli downtown responded with a satirical sandwich, aptly named The Donald. David Bowie and Alan Rickman died, but their legacies were given a new life.

Finding good news amongst the bad sometimes seems like a challenge, but the Defender staff works hard to strike a balance between the positive and the negative, the informative and the creative. In this edition, we reported on students using the MakerSpace to craft inventions for children with disabilities, and challenged readers to think about the environmentally-unfriendly impacts of lower gas prices. We covered the whys and hows of banned items on our campus, while we also delved into the psychology of cat and dog people.

The mainstream media’s cycle of bad news won’t stop, and it shouldn’t. Negative news is informative, and we need it. But we also need positivity. You, our reader, have a say in the news we report. Write a letter to the editor, or compose a column. This media outlet is yours, as much as ours, and we invite you to weigh in on our balance.