July 8, 2015

The Bad News Phenomenon: Are we Powering our own Fear?

Photo: Jorge Mendez on Pixoto. http://www.pixoto.com/images-photography/people/fine-art/gas-princess-5711239875395584

Here’s my confession: I don’t watch the news or follow news sites, and I only read the travel supplement of the Sunday paper.

I stopped watching the news a year ago just after flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur fell from the sky in pieces.  Looking back, it was this event that triggered me most, and I saw the impact of the news on me and us for the first time.

There’s a theory that says that the reason there’s so much bad news out there is because we tell the media that that’s what we want.

The more things that go wrong on our wonderful planet, the more wars there are, tragic accidents (or otherwise) that occur, atrocities, murders, the list goes on…the more we tune in to hear about it.

The more we turn on the news during times of crisis, the more the news corporations see that they are most popular when they share bad news.  During times of extreme loss and tragedy it seems that we want to stay connected to that pain.

A research study recently run by McGill University, Canada1 which showed that the majority of participants were more drawn to stories that had a negative tone—corruption, violence, hypocrisy, setbacks etc.  Yet when asked openly, these same participants said they preferred good news stories.

Media studies currently show that for every one Good News story out there, there are 17 negative ones.

Evidence has also been found that mainstream News is actually toxic to our bodies.

News constantly triggers our limbic system2 (part of our brain) and through panicky stories triggers a state of stress.  In addition, News can work like a drug in that as stories develop, we become “hooked” and want to know how they continue or end.

I stopped watching and reading the news when MH17 happened because I had to fly long-haul back home to Amsterdam the next day.  I was terrified of the seemingly random nature of what happened and the fact that it had hit so close to “home.”

It was still the scariest flight I’ve ever taken, because I had worked myself into such a state of fear through my thoughts.  I found that avoiding the news in the 24-hours before I flew was nearly impossible—newsflashes on the TV interrupting regular shows, hearing updates on friends’ radios or in public, via facebook—even if not via news sites but via friends’ comments and newsfeeds that I saw how I was so used to just absorbing negative news, without even being aware of it.

Since making my decision to switch off the news as much as I can, I feel lighter—I give less weight to the bad things going on, but I also still have a nagging doubt that this can’t be the answer to the problem, and that I’m just tuning out the white elephant.

On one hand, without the media, the power of the terrorists of our world would be cut in half. But on the other, there are so many worthy causes out there and stories of plight that need our attention and visibility through media coverage.

Maybe turning a blind eye is not the whole solution.

Maybe it has to start with us—not boycotting News completely, but consciously choosing what we want to consume.  Thinking about what we click on and assessing for ourselves if it is a negative article which brings no benefit to us to read, or if it is about a topic or issue that we feel is important and we can do something with, or where generating awareness will bring positive results.

Most importantly, I feel we can all remember that we have an active choice to make about what we consume, endorse, and allow to influence us and make sure that message gets through in the data and in reality to those that control our newsfeeds.

It’s time to regain our independence and consciousness in the messages we consume.


Sources Cited:

[1] Marc Trussler & Stuart Soroka, 2013: ‘Consumer Demand for Cynical and Negative News Frames’: http://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/papers-2013/Trussler-Soroka.pdf
[2] Rolf Dobelli, 2012: ‘News is bad for you and giving up reading it will make you happier’, The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-rolf-dobelli



Relephant Read:

An End to the Way of the Lemming.


Author: Ellie Cleary

Editor: Renee Jahnke

Image: Jorge Mendez-Pixoto

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Ellie Cleary