Turning inner space into outer space

August 15, 2015

News might seem negative because it doesn't reflect our reality

From Humans of New York: “He’s a very respectful husband. He’s different from a lot of the men in this region. He never stops me from voicing my opinions.” (Passu, Pakistan)

Now and again, managers in the news industry hear complaints from readers or viewers that the news is too negative.

Their concerns are understandable. Intuitively, it makes sense that exposing yourself to news about the bad things in the world will affect your own outlook.

A blog at Psychology Today, called Why We Worry, says that “negative sensationalism” in the news has increased in the past few decades. The writer, Graham C.L. Davey, cites this as his belief, but many would likely agree with him.

He concludes that “not only are negatively valenced news broadcasts likely to make you sadder and more anxious, they are also likely to exacerbate your own personal worries and anxieties.”

That may be true, but it could also be argued that the news provides a distraction. After all, the time you spend thinking about a devastating forest fire is time you don’t spend thinking about the ups and downs of your own life.

People who describe themselves as news junkies might really be people with a tendency to avoid facing up to the realities of what’s happening at home — even if that reality is simple boredom.

Somewhere in the midst of all this lies the Humans of New York project. This is a blog that consists of photo portraits of ordinary people with accompanying interviews. Sometimes the text is an off-the-cuff remark, but often it details compelling details about the person’s life.

The man behind the project, American photographer Brandon Stanton, has a massive following on social media due to his ability to captures slices of life that go to the core of our humanity. He is currently travelling in Pakistan, where he has been welcomed with open arms.

If you know anything about Pakistan, it’s likely from news reports about violence and terrorism. This is the country where Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. troops. This is the country accused of harbouring the Taliban. This the home of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot because of her advocacy for education for girls.

But Pakistan is a large country with many millions of people who have nothing to do with the things we see in the news. This is why so many of them were glad to have Stanton chronicle the joys and sorrows of their day-to-day lives.

According to Vocativ, his popularity on Facebook has exploded with thousands of new fans from Pakistan.

An open letter to the Express Tribune says it all:

Brandon, it is true that my country, like any other country in the world, is filled with horrible people who do dreadful things. My state has been known to make stupid decisions too. However, there is so much good here as well. There are such good souls here; people who restore one’s faith in humanity. There is always another side to things, and you my friend, are showing the world that side.

The popularity of Humans of New York is not that it presents good news instead of bad. In fact, much of what it shows is mixture of hope and tragedy. It’s different because it breaks through the filter of what those with influence consider to be important. We see what truly occupies, to a greater or lesser extent, every human — families, health, shelter, relationships.

When people talk about there being too much negativity in the news, what they might really mean is that there not enough realism — surely things can’t be that bad.

It’s true that the world is not always a nice place, and we need to know about that so we can continue to find ways to make it better. Still, it’s good to remember that what’s more important could be happening right now in your own home and in the homes of people everywhere.