No news is good news

Southampton Business School Associate Professor Dr Denise Baden is researching how people are affected by positive or negative news stories. She has been awarded £10,000 from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Acceleration fund for her project Updating current ‘news values’ to reflect research on impacts of news presentation on viewers/readers. As part of the research, she has interviewed news editors and senior journalists from Reuters, BBC, Sky News and Al Jazeera to learn more about what they consider ‘news’ and how they made decisions on which stories to cover.

“I was prompted to investigate news values after noticing how I often felt depressed and disengaged after watching news bulletins,” explains Denise. “Talking to editors and reporters, I found professional journalists tend to regard negative or bad news as ‘real news’ that should be reported. They had little interest in including positive stories in their bulletins although my research suggests readers and viewers prefer them.”

Results from her surveys involving more than 2,000 respondents indicates that presenting news in a negative way leads to disengagement, avoidance, negative mood and anxiety. For example respondents were exposed to two environmental news stories, one focused on the damage to the oceans, and the other recounted the success of a clean-up campaign. The positive news story gave rise to significantly greater motivation to be more environmentally friendly.

Denise believes that “bearing in mind the challenges we face relating to sustainable development, pollution, resource scarcity and climate change, it is important to have news that is likely to motivate rather than demotivate pro-environmental behaviours.” Similarly respondents were exposed to another two stories, one focused on the atrocities in Syria, and one covered peace talks between Iran and US. The news story on atrocities lowered mood scores by 38 per cent for women and 20 per cent for men. It also gave rise to very high scores on anxiety, sadness and pessimism. The story on the peace talks resulted in opposite effects.

Further findings were that the more negatively respondents felt, the less likely they were to voice their opinions or take actions to make the world a better place. Denise questions whether constant exposure to negative news may be contributing to the growing problem of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety: “I believe my research has implications for how we present news; this project aims to share these findings with trainee journalists to increase awareness of how news can be framed more constructively to have a more positive societal impact”.

Click here to read Denise’s opinion piece on The Conversation.

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