We are all very familiar with the saying, “you are what you eat.” It’s a very simple but effective statement that has made us increasingly aware of the way in which food is produced, and that what we consume will affect our physical health. Well, food is to the body what information is to the mind. The way it’s produced, and the way it’s consumed will affect our mental health.
The news is one of the most influential and inescapable sources of information that we consume, and the consumers who it affects rarely question its impact. Ten years ago, I began questioning it because I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t read the news anymore. I found it too depressing and I was beginning to feel hopeless and helpless about the state of the world. People thought my decision to stop watching the news was naive, weak, ignorant or extreme. But after a decade of research and investigation, not only into my personal experience with the news, but researching audience disengagement on a collective level, it became clear that the industry was actually at fault. It turns out, my experience wasn’t unique. Finding the news too depressing is the biggest reason for audience disengagement.
By experiencing such a noticeable change in myself from changing my media diet, I wanted to understand this on a collective level. I dove head first into all the media research available over the last century. I got a Master’s degree in Positive Psychology to better understand concepts like hope and optimism and the role that they play in social development, and I became a partner in the constructive journalism project. I’ve spoken globally about the impact of the news on our mental health and social functioning. More recently, I’ve written a book on the subject.
Since researching the benefits of Solutions Journalism, I’ve become a passionate advocate for its increased presence in the mainstream media. And when I speak to people about this, one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “How can I read solutions-focused news and still be educated on what’s going on in the world?” This is one of my favorite and most frustrating questions because it assumes that problems and solutions are mutually exclusive, or that by learning about solutions you become ignorant to problems. But it’s completely the opposite. Solutions don’t exist in the absence of problems; they actually only really exist in the presence of them. They’re a part of the narrative — and not just as a fluffy sentimental silver lining, but as a necessary informational addition that enables us to fully understand the issue being reported.
Reporting solutions doesn’t make us naive to problems. It actually helps us better engage with the problem. This is because Solutions Journalism can make us feel hopeful and empowered by “making people aware of specific developments and initiatives,” showing that there can be effective resolutions and progress in response to problems, and helping us believe that our actions are able to make a difference. When we feel we’re able to make a difference, we’ll persist in the face of problems rather than simply accepting them or even worse, ignoring them.
With so many problems and challenges in the world, we need to feel hopeful, optimistic and empowered in order to address them constructively. Feelings such as anger and injustice are invaluable too, because we need to get people sufficiently angry about an issue to stir up action. It’s not to say that we need this rounded balance in every news story, but we need these varied narratives in the news landscape as a whole.
This was certainly the case for me. I became able to fully engage with all of the news again only after I discovered the more balanced approach to how it’s reported. It’s important to have a conversation about including problems and solutions in the news rather than an argument about problems versus solutions. Both consumers and the news industry would benefit from widening the lens in this way and reporting everything that goes on in the world, rather than excessively reporting everything that goes wrong in the world.
Jodie Jackson is an author, researcher and campaigner. She holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of East London (UK) where she investigated the psychological impact of the news. As she discovered evidence of the beneficial effects of solutions-focused news on our wellbeing, she grew convinced of the need to spread consumer awareness. She is a regular speaker at media conferences and universities. Her new book is You Are What You Read: Why Changing Your Media Diet Can Change the World (Unbound, September 3, 2019). See more at www.jodiejackson.com, and find her on twitter at @jacksonjodie21