From the Editors: News
Opinions / July 26, 2016
It’s better than you think
Lately the news appears to be much more depressing than usual. Shootings in the U.S. are constantly being reported, Turkey almost had a military junta, and there was another massacre in France. It would appear at first glance that the world is getting worse.
I’m not the only one who’s waiting for 2016 to end. We keep hearing about how we’re cooking the Earth to a crisp, populism is on the rise, and some people who shouldn’t be politicians could become politicians.
The reason why things seem to be getting worse has a lot to do with technology. As anyone in Black Lives Matter will tell you, unnecessary police violence is nothing new—what’s new are the cellphones with video cameras that capture the violence.
Also new are Twitter and the 24-hour news channels. Television networks such as CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and more are unrelenting in their reporting. Watching these channels can feel overwhelming, and being inundated with stories about terrorist attacks, mass shootings, and scary politicians can make the world seem worse than it is. Part of the focus on negative news is because networks know what draws eyeballs, and for the Facebook generation, shares and likes.
In “What Makes Online Content Viral?” an academic study by Jonah A. Berger & Katherine L. Milkman, it’s suggested that anger is the emotion you most want to activate in your audience if you want your online content to spread. “Awe,” practical value, and interest are also good buttons to press, but anger will take your content far and wide.
The news industry was already well aware of this.
With the internet comes instantaneous communication. I had the option of watching 50 different live streams of Istanbul at any moment. Not from Turkish news organizations, but regular people with Periscope. I also had this option when watching BLM protests in the last few weeks. Regular people have been faster at communicating and getting information out there than journalists. Up until a few years ago, we had a large handful of media companies who’d sort and filter through this information to figure out what was worth reporting on.
Rules and traditions are constantly getting flipped around and screwed with. It might look like things are getting worse for women and minorities, but we’re simply much, much more acutely aware of it when something bad happens. Many of our ears and eyes are tuned to spotting injustice and getting upset about it. More so than any previous generation.
Today, everything can be found if we want it to. That’s why it seems like everything is getting worse. In actuality, most things are getting better.
Hearing about the many conflicts around the world can be distressing, but it’s nothing like what you’ve read about in history. World War I and II deaths were in the millions. Current combatant deaths are in the thousands. In general, warfare is getting smaller and smaller in scale. Partially because globalization and trade has made it very, very bad to shoot the guy that brings you business. Back in the day, conflict between two major powers was a constant possibility. Today, China and the US going to war is practically impossible.
Since 1990, over 1 billion people around the world have been lifted from poverty. While middle-class wages are suffering in North America, your money goes much further than it has in the past. It’s much better to be poor in 2016 than in 1970. Part of this can be owed to the massive economic expansion in China, and increasing trade and development in Africa.
I will concede that the environment is getting worse, but it’s not like we’re sitting on our hands. China, one of the worst polluters in the world, is making a push to change their coal power plants to nuclear. Plenty of European countries have already enacted strategies to reduce or eliminate CO2 emissions. The ozone layer is starting to close.
Of course we shouldn’t ignore bad news, but we should try to think more about our own biases. Yes, it’s going to be hard for us to buy a house, but unlike your grandparents, you’re much, much more likely to have a safe and productive life if you’re not a straight, white male.
Obviously I’m in an awkward position here, it’s in my best interest as a journalist that you consume the news, but I wouldn’t put it past anyone to consume it with a critical eye.