A few years ago, when my daughter was five, I began to modify a lifelong habit. I turned off the news! Not in general, just whenever she walked into the room. Not because I wanted to keep her away from what was happening in the world around her, but because of the way the news was presented.
There is a saying in the news business, “If it bleeds, it leads.” The first use of this phrase I can find is in Eric Pooley’s brilliant article for New York magazine, “Grins, Gore & Video Tape — The Trouble With Local TV News” from October 1989. The article is well worth a read as it looks at why the news began to focus on the sensational at the cost of the more in-depth and substantive. The focus on the misery, suffering, and violence that pervaded the news then, as it does now, is all the more striking since we are supposed to be living in much better days.
A quick search will uncover ample data that reflects this, and I believe we can see it, for the most part, in our daily lives. Is the world perfect? No. Are there still places that are seemingly hell on earth? Yes. Do we have more progress to make in terms of tolerance, equality, and fairness? Absolutely. But for the majority of humans, life is improving — so why does news coverage not portray the world as it actually is?
We could argue whether the world is indeed getting better (and I look forward to it), but what is beyond doubt is the way that the news often blurs and distorts what is really happening. A startling example of what is reported versus what is on people’s minds can be seen in these charts below:
I believe the root of this problem is the advertising model, which functions as a ratings model because it forces the worst aspect(s) of the story to become the headline, and therefore the focus/hero. And if ever there was a medium that embraced this it would be social media.
Social platforms have amplified the reach of negative content and exacerbated the effects of our immiseration in ways unimaginable when Mr. Pooley’s article was first published. Stories are designed to hook fast, as this is what drives clicks, and nothing does this better than headlines that instill fear and promote anger. Injustice drives traffic, misery sells ads, and intrigue makes money. But at what cost? I believe the cost is higher than we might think. This is why we are building NewsHero.
NewsHero — Every Story Has A Hero
NewsHero will report the news with an emphasis on the best in humanity, but it is not a “good news” network. The facts are the same, only the delivery is different.
Because current news services will generally give priority to:
- The number of dead versus the number of people saved
- The perpetrator of the crime versus those who attempted to thwart or prevent greater harm
- The negative outcome in a given situation, as opposed to the positive changes that emerge afterwards
- Why you should be afraid even if reason and data suggest otherwise
NewsHero in effect dives deeper into the story, and by pulling from multiple sources, will identify and prioritize the counterweight to the negative.
NewsHero stories are curated from existing and trusted news outlets and are then presented to portray the heroes in any given situation above those who would cause harm. Again, NewsHero is not a “good news” network! On the contrary, it will share all of the news, good or bad, but with the weight of the story focused on those who helped, over those who did harm.
I have spent a lot of my time since kicking off this project reflecting on what it is we are building here. I am more convinced than ever about the importance of this mission. I have also been meditating on a line in the article mentioned above, “The thoughtful report is buried because sensational stories must launch the broadcast: If it bleeds, it leads.”
As someone who has been poring over print, audio, and TV reporting since the Iraq war, I have come to the sobering conclusion that the majority of today’s news, with its advertising/ratings business model of reporting, is not designed to inform us so much as it is to sell to us.
Leading with how many died, or the perpetrator of a crime minus the context of how many lived or stepped in to help, does not give us a more accurate view of the world, it merely plays to our primal instincts. I would also argue that by making the criminals, or those who would harm, the heroes — by giving them top billing over the survivors and helpers — we do a disservice to those who jump in to help and protect us.
We do live in a world where women and men show up to help and make the world a better place each and every day. We also live in a world where terrible things happen. But as the inimitable Fred Rogers so wonderfully put it, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
I think we have a unique opportunity to recruit a sharp diverse team and to deploy incredible technology to serve this mission. I also think our timing is impeccable to create a model that will honor the truth and inform us, without needing to pander to a model that is outdated and corrupt.
NewsHero is being set up as a public benefit corporation and we are live today on Kickstarter with a campaign to crowdfund its creation. When successful, we will begin to recruit an experienced team to help us bring this remarkable company to life.
Thanks for reading. We can’t wait to turn this idea into a reality and if enough of you want it then, this is exactly what we will do.