It has long been a perception that the news media is awash with bad news, with “if it bleeds, it leads” a dictum to live by for generations. In the political sphere, this has led to a polarisation in discourse that results in fewer politicians willing to cross the aisle and work with their opponents.
A recent study from the University of Kansas suggests that people are growing increasingly tired of such partisanship and favor news content that shows a more conciliatory and collaborative approach from politicians.
The study saw news stories categorized into four blocks:
The aim was to test what kind of stories people tended to prefer. The findings suggest we may need to rethink the maxim that bad news sells and people want partisan coverage from their news outlets.
“The experiment described in this paper revealed two important findings: civil news, more than traditional or entertainment news, drew clicks away from uncivil news,” the author says. However, “when more entertainment stories were present, people gravitated toward incivility more often.”
Whilst this seems contradictory, it’s clear that civility is powerful enough to entice people away from uncivil news.
“At minimum, journalists need to take the context in which their stories will appear into account as they emphasize information in their headlines,” the author writes.
Performing a social good
What’s more, incivility plays a significant role in the deterioration in the trust we have in key institutions, not least of which is the government. This in turn encourages people to hunker down and become even more entrenched in their political beliefs. So by posting more stories about the respectful behavior of politicians and their willingness to work together across party lines, it can do a significant amount to rebuild that trust. The author hopes that their findings will help to shift the nature of not only reporting but the political landscape as a whole.
“People do click on the negative, but when there’s something actively positive, they click on that, too,” they say. “Things that are more neutral are less likely to get engagement. Positivity does work, but it can’t be merely a lack of negativity. It must be something that looks like people are solving a problem.”
Reading positive news can also have a fascinating impact on the reader. A study from Southampton University a few years ago found that consuming negative news had a number of rather alarming affects on us.
For instance, reading a normal news story would usually be followed by a drop in mood amongst readers, with female readers suffering a 38 percent drop and men a 28 percent drop.
What’s more, framing news in a negative way makes us much less likely to take any kind of positive action on the issues we’ve just learned about. This lethargy spread into other areas too, with those who were worried or saddened by the news found to be less likely to support a charity or help the environment.
Suffice to say, no one is advocating making up positive news for the sake of it, but if there is a clear choice between a positive story and a negative one, the research suggests that positive ones will not only get read, but also shared on social media more often. That it seems to do good for society on both a micro and macro level is surely no bad side-effect either.