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A story about good news

GoodNewsLast month, a newspaper featuring uplifting news from the inner city hit the streets of urban America. According to the Deseret News, Success News founder and editor J.M. Benjamin has been wheeling across the country selling the paper one by one in an effort to ease fears, motivate and inspire those living in tough neighborhoods.

A publication dedicated solely to positive news is not a new concept, however. Take the Good News Press in Caney, Kan. It was conceived by H.K. George and launched in 1978. George’s daughter June Freisberg is now the news editor of the paper and noted in an email interview that her father believed people would respond to a positive news publication. “People like to read about the good things people do. Certainly, all news is not good news, but the media seems to play up the bad, sensational and negative news to entice readers. Good news has almost become a novelty in today’s world,” she said.

For Geraldine Weis-Corbley, the idea for a positive news organization came early in her television career when she wondered why there weren’t any good-news shows. By 1997, she had launched the Good News Network online, which features good news from across the Web and throughout the world. In 2008, she decided to make it a business as well and launched a subscription service. Readers were given the option to “pay what they can afford,” she said. Surprisingly, she found that there were a good number of people willing to pay the high-end payments of $97 a year. For the people who can’t afford it, she puts out a free newsletter with the top 10 news stories of the week. The willingness for people to pay, however, made her realize that positive news really was having an impact.

There have been other indicators that the power of positive news can leave a lasting impression or aid people during tragedy. For instance, during several major disasters, traffic to her website spiked, she noted, while comments from people thanking her for an uplifting experience found on her site also suggest readers are looking for something to brighten their day. The effect of positive news hasn’t been lost on mainstream news organizations either, she noted. Some news channels have started devoting features to uplifting stories, such as CNN’s “Heroes” segment and NBC’s “Making a Difference.” In December, the Croatian daily, 24 Sata, published only good news for a day.

A variety of other positive news organizations exist as well, including The Bright Side in South Dennis, N.J., The Good News About Torrington in Torrington, Conn., and the Canada-based Snap Newspaper franchise, which boasts nonpolitical, friendly news.

Positive and negative news can have very different effects on people, according to several studies cited by Mary Beth Oliver, co-director of the Media Effects Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University. Heavy consumers of negative news featuring crime or violence have been found to be more paranoid, distrustful and cynical, while news focused on threats such as terrorism or drugs can have political implications when people’s fears are exploited for political gain.

Meanwhile, the visual examples the media feeds their audience can also produce a negative feeling. For example, Oliver said she is an avid scuba diver, but still gets nervous about sharks. “It’s ridiculous, I’ve never been physically endangered by a shark,” she said. “But if the news is going to report about sharks, the story might be telling us that 90 percent of all sharks are harmless, but the examples they give us are these really salient, visually frightening examples. And that’s what sticks with us.”

On the flip side, a portrayal of moral beauty, kindness and generosity has left people feeling moved, she said. “There’s this motivational outcome that causes people to want to be better – and that’s really, really neat,” she said. Often, there’s this misconception that if it “bleeds it leads” but Oliver noted that what people tend to forward in emails and share with one another are the awe-inspiring stories. “It suggests that maybe if people were reading the bad news all the time that’s because that’s what they were given, not because that’s what they wanted.”

Of course, it can’t all be good news and even positive news proponents such as Freisberg and Weis-Corbley will attest to that. They both agree governments and people still need to be held accountable. But good news has its place to uplift people’s spirits and provide a positive perspective on life. “It’s not all heartwarming, people suffer. But it’s not all rotten,” said Oliver.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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