When the impact of hearing near-constant bad news stories became a problem in her life, Jodie Jackson decided to delve deeper: why does the news emphasise what’s going wrong? After seven years researching the psychological impact of media, Jackson has written a book to help others become ‘conscious news consumers’. In doing so, people can change the media, she believes
Why did you decide to research the impact that the news has on wellbeing?
I felt dread when the news would come on. I got to the point where I would turn it off in a near state of panic. It was a gradual progression that went from me being someone who watched the news daily to someone who could no longer stand it. I consider myself a rational person and I like to be informed about the issues of our time, but I realised my response to the news was no longer a rational one; it was very emotionally charged. It was a powerful sensation and one that I wanted to understand better, so I decided to go back to university and research what the news does to our sense of wellbeing.
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Your research suggests that a majority of readers feel disempowered after consuming the news. Why is that a problem?
We may really care about a particular social problem but if we don’t feel empowered enough to be able to make a difference, we can end up feeling apathy. We accept the problem as inevitable and endless, rather than solvable and temporary. Considering that the main purpose of the news is to inform people in a way that empowers them, the excessive negative tone in the news is a barrier to this.
Your work also highlights that more positively framed news helps audiences to see what is possible. Why is that important?
Being aware of specific positive developments creates a new belief in what is possible. Sometimes you need to ‘see it to believe it’, and that’s exactly what more positively framed reporting does. Solution-focused news shows that in response to problems, there can be progress and effective resolution. A knock-on effect of this is that it helps us understand that our actions can make a difference. Research has linked reading solution-focused news to feeling more empowered.
Solution-focused news shows that in response to problems, there can be progress and effective resolution
You have turned your research into a book, aimed not at journalists but at educating news ‘consumers’. Why this focus?
I believe the consumer holds the power to change the news. The media, for the most part, is driven by profit, and therefore will produce content that generates the most audience engagement. This puts people in quite a powerful editorial position, provided that we become conscious about what content we engage with. If we have the knowledge of how and why the information is produced, what effect it has on us, and what we can do about this, then we have all the tools we need to become conscious consumers. My aim with the book is to help people to navigate their own way through the news and in doing so improve their psychological health. I truly believe that together, we will then in turn change the industry for the better.
How does the news impact you now?
My worldview changed when I changed my media diet. I became inspired by the initiatives that were creating solutions to some of the problems that we are so well informed about. This made me feel more connected to the news, but more importantly, more connected to society and my potential within it.
My worldview changed when I changed my media diet
My book builds on everything I’ve learned since then, to help other people do the same. I agree all the people who wish to remain informed about world events; I consider myself one of them. But when we think about how we see the world, we must ask: What stories are we not hearing about? While completing my master’s in positive psychology, I leaned that the filters that our reality passes through before it reaches us will shape our worldview. It’s important that we’re informed about the problems and the issues of our time, but we also need to see how these are being addressed. Perception is everything.
Jodie Jackson is a partner at the Constructive Journalism Project. She is currently crowdfunding her book, You Are What You Read: Why Changing Your Media Diet Can Change the World, which is available for pre-order.
Jackson was interviewed for this piece by Danielle Batist, co-founder of the Constructive Journalism Project.