Thanks for the good news Emma – but can we have some more?
She’s young, she’s spirited and she’s sensational – the golden girl of British tennis Emma Raducanu has landed back on UK soil after taking the world by storm with her win at the U.S Open.
It’s been more than 40 years since a British female won a major tournament and the press have celebrated with a tsunami of coverage about this fabulous force of a young woman.
And their response is justified, the adulation is well deserved.
Emma is just 18-years-old, entered one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments on the planet as a qualifier – and won. We’ve claimed her as our hero because she makes us feel good.
This sense of happiness, excitement and celebration is a rarity for our TV screens and news pages, and it may be why we have resorted to a form of hero-worship when faced with a flurry of positive news stories about an inspirational individual.
Interestingly, the heroes that the British media and general public tend to celebrate are from the world of sport. In Wales, the focus has been on Alun Wyn’s Lazurus-like comeback from injury to skipper the British and Irish Lions, followed by Olympic success in Tokyo, notably in the form of Caerphilly’s golden girl Lauren Price – the first female boxer from Wales ever to compete in the Olympics.
These spikes of good news have been a welcome distraction from the endless coverage about the uncertainties, tragedies and worries of the coronavirus pandemic and other global challenges.
But the question is, do we really have to wait another four years – or forty years – before being blessed with uplifting news content again?
According to Arianna Huffington – founder of the Huffington Post – the media has a responsibility to give consumers an accurate picture of what’s happening in the world. That means reporting what’s working, as well as what’s not. She also argues that the social media generation can play its part in a “positive contagion”, claiming that most readers are more interested in reading and sharing their positive stories on Facebook.
So why do we not see the positivity that is often shared on Facebook, by every day social media users, mirrored in traditional media?
To try and shed light on this appetite for bad news, an experiment on ‘news reaction’ was undertaken by the McGill University in Canada where volunteers were asked to select some stories about politics to read from a news website so that their response could be scientifically measured.
The results of the experiment, as well as the stories that were read most, were rather depressing. Participants often chose stories with a negative tone – corruption, set-backs, hypocrisy and the like – rather than neutral or positive stories. People who were particularly interested in current affairs and politics were more likely than most to gravitate towards bad news.
And yet when asked, these people said they preferred good news and believed that the media was too focussed on the negative.
The researchers presented their experiment as solid evidence of a so called “negativity bias” which is a psychologists’ term for our hunger to hear and remember bad news.
Another study involving more than 1,000 people across 17 countries backs up the thinking that a bias toward negative news might be a large part of what drives negative news coverage.
The researchers concluded that there are actually evolutionary reasons as to why negativity bias exists. After all, it makes sense that it would be much riskier to ignore negative information like ‘a hurricane is coming’, than good news like ‘dog is rescued from well’.
For those of us working in communications, we will be very familiar with the old adage “If it bleeds, it leads” – and even if you’re not from a media background, you’ll also know that a typical headline does not usually focus on the lighter side of life.
The question is how does sustained negativity impact the headline-hungry public on a daily basis? Some medical experts will urge you to stay away from the news if you feel it upsets the rhythm of your day. They’ve even given it a name ‘headline stress disorder’ which happens when the negative news cycle of global warning, international terrorism and a global pandemic is getting too much.
Cutting through with positive news is a challenge for businesses and communicators everywhere. Our job is to make our stories compelling. Adding the ingredients of news, thinking objectively about what our audiences want and weaving in our messages appropriately.
Emma Raducanu has only just started to write her story, while Alun Wyn’s has just made it into print in a new book. Let’s hope there are many more positive stories to come from them and others, both in sport and beyond. Bigger doses of good news in future would be very welcome and much healthier for us all.
This article was written by our chief executive, Angharad Neagle, and featured in the Western Mail on 20 September 2021