A quick glance at two of the most popular Irish news websites displays how negative news is ubiquitous in the media.

The Irish Times website on the 25th of January 2019 at 18:30;

‘Brexit: soldiers may return to Border, Varadkar warns’ accompanied by several other scary no-deal headlines’

‘Ireland’s rise to a rugby powerhouse’ provides some positivity and relief’

‘Nurses’ strike to go ahead as talks aimed at heading off work stoppage end’

‘Newly married man who orally raped schoolgirl (13) is jailed’

‘Israel gives Irish ambassador severe dressing down for ‘anti-Semitic’ Dáil Bill’

The Irish Independent website at the same time and date;

‘Gardaí trawl CCTV to find source of M50 crash video’

‘Over 400 new jobs to be created as iconic store is transformed into ‘Clerys Quarter’’

‘Last ditch talks to avert strike by 40,000 nurses have collapsed’

‘Man before court for ‘slapping young daughter’ is charged with witness interferences’

‘Pathological levels of dishonesty and arrogance – Irish doctor in £1m insurance fraud’

A mere two of the ten headlines that one comes across on a Friday evening are positive. One of which is sports related.

There is widespread belief that the news has become too negative and is having negative effects on people and society. Many people claim that they would prefer the news to be more light-hearted and positive. However, is this the case in reality? Newspapers produce articles that their readers want to read, they follow consumer trends and preferences in order to keep their following. The rise of the internet has disrupted the news industry and increased competition greatly. Consumers are receiving more news and information than ever before. They have more choices in how they get their news than ever before. Blogs and social media provide free armchair analysis for news. Consequently, there is a greater onus on news outlets to attempt to grab reader’s attention with increasingly outlandish headlines and stories.

An experiment, run at McGill University in Canada which was carried out on people who claimed that they preferred positive news and that the media was too focused on negative stories found that participants often chose stories with a negative tone – corruption, set-backs, hypocrisy and so on – rather than neutral or positive stories. People who were more interested in current affairs and politics were particularly likely to choose the bad news.

Our fight or flight instinct means that we react quicker to negative words. Thus, we are more likely to click on and read headlines with negative connotations.  According to Adweek, negative superlatives work 30% better at getting your attention than positive ones.

Russian news site City Reporter only reported good news to its readers for an entire day. The site brought positive news stories to the front of its pages and found any and all silver linings in negative stories. The City Reporter reportedly lost two-thirds of its normal readership that day.

Bad things can happen quickly, but good things aren’t built in a day, and as they unfold, they will be out of sync with the news cycle. Researcher John Galtung pointed out that if a newspaper came out once every 50 years, it would not report half a century of celebrity gossip and political scandals but monuments global change. On average, 137,000 people leave extreme poverty every year. However, this is not recorded in the news.

The unrelenting stream of negative news that people are consuming every day influences and distorts their perception of the world. Consider the fear that people feel in the aftermath of a terrorist attack despite the statistical likelihood of you being fatally crushed by furniture being greater than being killed by a terrorist. People are afraid of flying in aeroplanes because when one crashes it is breaking news when it is statistically far more dangerous to travel in a car.

The Overton Window is a concept in political science of what the public is willing to accept. Everything inside the window in normal, everything outside the window is radical and unthinkable. The constant stream of negative news has normalized radical and extremist views.

In 2015, during the refugee crisis, Germany led the EU by allowing 140,000 people asylums into the country. 33% of Germans supported this move and said the country could take on additional migrants. A raft of sexual assaults and thefts most notably on New Year’s Eve in Cologne which was reportedly carried out by young men of African or Arab appearance resulted in a fall to only 18% of Germans believing that they could take in more refugees. The far-right AFD party also gained significant support in lieu of these revelations.

Another consequence of the negative news that we are subject to is fatalism, a belief that our systems and institutions are son inherently flawed that only radical change will bring about solutions. Trump, Brexit and the rise of popularity of the AFD are all examples of people seeking radical change.

In 2018, Author Steven Pinker gave a Ted talk explaining how by looking at the metrics and data, it is clear that the world is constantly improving and progressing. The world is safer with less nuclear weapons or wars when compared to the numbers of thirty years ago. Homicide rates have constantly been decreasing as have pollution levels. Life expectancy is greater worldwide than ever before. Famine and extreme poverty are at an all-time low. Maybe things aren’t as bad as the news makes it appear to be.  


By Peter Hoy – Politics CoEditor