WE ARE knee-deep in bad news. Everywhere we look, we’re bombarded with horror stories: daily death stats, climate crisis, warnings of ecological Armageddon, extinctions, contaminated oceans, economic turmoil, industries flushed down the pan. Add to that the alarming rise in neo-fascism, inequality, poverty, tyranny and other stories of recklessness and cruelty and it’s not exactly a sunset shot with a soft focus lens.

Missing from this picture are all the uplifting stories – of kindness, courage, vision, altruism and community. Scratch the surface, and you find a multitude of positive stories to unearth, and a sea of people beavering away to do their bit for a kinder, fairer, happier world.

Everyone needs a balanced diet to thrive. That includes our news consumption. There is token recognition of this need, with scant coverage of constructive stories, positive innovations and people trying to make a difference. But it’s not enough.

“Media coverage tends to be relentlessly negative,” states the Reuters Digital News Report 2019, and language analysis indicates publications are becoming more negative. Thirty-two per cent of people “actively avoid the news… because it has a negative effect on their mood or because they feel powerless to change events”. This is reflected in the term “headline stress disorder” coined by US psychologist Steven Stosny – and everyone has a limit.

Two-thirds (66 per cent) of us access news updates on smartphones, with the effect that people feel they are battered by bad news. Yet Harvard professor Steven Pinker believes that the world is safer, more cooperative and less violent than at any other point in human history. Pinker’s point is that the positives get obliterated from view in a tidal wave of bad news.

“Anytime something bad happens, it’s guaranteed to make the news and our mind fixes on the explosions and refugees,” he argues in his book Enlightenment Now. He talked last week about positive developments being “less photogenic than the day's disasters but often more consequential”. Pinker believes the doomsday discourse around climate crisis needs to change to a constructive narrative backed by societal commitment to step up and apply active solutions such as “massive reforestation”.

Positive News publisher Seán Dagan Wood believes in “constructive” reporting. There is nothing saccharine or happy-clappy about it; it’s a matter of engaging people and providing them with “a sense of agency”, he says. “Rather than feeling hopeless about the problem it shows that things can be done, which encourages people to feel they can be part of positive change.”

Robust scrutiny is a central facet of quality news – journalists aren’t doing our jobs properly unless we’re holding authorities to account, exposing corruption and disinformation, challenging poor policies, practices and agenda, and probing leaders unfit for office. That’s intrinsically critical, yet entirely necessary.

The documented rise in depression and suicides in our young people is troubling and multifactorial. I’m not suggesting this is all caused by media. But presenting a better balance couldn’t do any harm.

I volunteered on a forest school based programme with teenagers. Many shared a profound cynicism about humans and a bleak view of the future – this was pre-Covid, and was mostly relating to planet-wrecking. Some felt they were being force-fed a diet of diabolical news. I’m not claiming this is representative, but nevertheless, in serving up the negative side of life for breakfast, lunch and dinner, is that balanced and responsible?

Improving our news diet can’t solve all of that, but it might help. We all need our five-a-day; our fruit and veg; our stories that demonstrate that humans can be a selfless, inventive, altruistic bunch; the stories of species recovering; the manifold acts of kindness, resourcefulness and insight, so we don’t push the good, thinking people of the future off the bad news precipice.

As media, we shouldn't underestimate our power to shape public opinion, to disquiet, to alarm, to traumatise. Even in countries with high trust in their media, such as Finland, only 25 per cent feel the balance is right.

We need the positive stories. We need balance. We need hope. Positive stories can alter our neural pathways, influence our outlook and make us more motivated to do something positive in our own lives. This is not denying the problems facing our societies, and I’m not advocating some phoney diet of sugar-coated news; just more coverage of practical, meaningful projects and solutions creative minds have dreamt up.

Sometimes, it’s time to sit back and reflect. On what we’re doing right. On what we’re doing wrong. On what we could do better. We don’t have to always focus on the negatives. It’s a choice. Giving a balanced diet is responsible, constructive, humane even – and absolutely not fluffy.