Why it’s time to divest from negative news

The recent surge in fossil fuel divestment campaigns has not only given people a voice against the industry, but has boosted support for more sustainable alternatives. The same can happen with excessive negativity in the media, argues Tom Lawson

Fossil fuel divestment is huge. What started as a small grassroots campaign in US colleges in 2012 is now a global phenomenon with people and organisations from all around the world committing to withdraw investments in the fossil fuel industry. As a result, an estimated $50bn (£31bn) will be taken out of the fossil fuel industry over the next five years.

The premise is simple: by withdrawing fossil fuel investments, organisations are limiting industry’s ability to exploit finite natural resources while simultaneously showing the world they object to a practice that is leading us on a path towards catastrophic climate change, destroying ecosystems and negatively impacting human health.

But what has this got to do with the media? Well, as the age of burning fossil fuels needs to come to an end, so does the era of overly negative media.

Though negative news may have less obvious consequences than the excessive use of fossil fuels, its implications for society are widespread and deep-rooted.

Every day we are bombarded with stories of conflict, death and destruction with seemingly no hope of resolution. Of course we should report on important issues such as war, crime and human rights abuses, but we also need to point to what is being done to tackle these problems. At present, the media too often presents an unbalanced view of the world.

“More than 220 institutions have divested from fossil fuels so far, how many of us will ‘divest’ from negative media and become part of a positive alternative?”

Not only this, but research is emerging that suggests negative news stories have a detrimental impact on wellbeing and sense of social agency. A recent study from the University of Southampton asked respondents to rate their moods before and after reading negative stories and found higher levels of anxiety, pessimism and demotivation afterwards. Denise Baden, one of the study’s researchers and associate professor at Southampton Business School, argues that this is an ethical issue that both the media industry and society must consider when producing and consuming news.

With most of us reading the news on regular basis, imagine the potential long-term implications for society as a whole.

As Positive News editor Seán Dagan Wood said at an Action for Happiness event in March: “We are reaching peak negativity in the news.”

But it’s not enough to simply stop a problem. Alternatives are needed to bring about real positive change. As many of those divesting from fossil fuels are instead investing in sustainable options such as renewable energy, alternative media solutions must be supported.

So what’s the solution? It’s clear that we need more balance. A more positive and constructive approach presents a more accurate picture of the truth and informs people how they can help make the world better.

Already progress is being made with Al Jazeera, the Huffington Post and the New York Times all beginning to introduce solutions-focused stories, plus the Constructive Journalism Project has recently started running workshops for university students.

But Positive News is taking this one step further. Building on our 22 years at the forefront of solutions-focused journalism, we’re now giving you the chance to #OwnTheMedia by launching a community share offer.

Like what you’re reading? We want our readers to #OwnTheMedia. Support Positive News by becoming an owner now: www.ownthemedia.org

With the majority of the media owned by just a few (70% of the UK’s media market is controlled by just three companies), we feel a more democratic approach is crucial in bringing about a more accountable solutions-focused media. And what better way to do that than to offer ownership of the paper to you, the readers?

This means that, as our readers, you don’t have to be passive consumers of news, but actively participate in the kind of news you want to see.

Most of us don’t hold direct investments in fossil fuels, but we do buy newspapers, subscribe to magazines and read advertisement-funded content online. We don’t have to necessarily ‘divest’ from other sources of media. But by buying shares in Positive News you are not only making a statement against overly negative news, but most importantly, saying that you want an active shift towards a more positive, reader-led media.

More than 220 institutions have divested from fossil fuels so far, how many of us will ‘divest’ from negative media and become part of a positive alternative?

The Positive News community share offer runs until 8 July 2015. To buy shares visit www.OwnTheMedia.org.

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