Some time ago I read a mind-bogglingly wonderful piece of news in HBL, the major Swedish daily in Finland. It said that – according to scientists – in 2015 the growth of greenhouse gas emissions slowed down to 0.6% compared to 2.4% in 2014. In 2016 it might even flat out and decrease. In my thinking this is a “stop the press, let’s have a parade and a public holiday” kind of news. Instead, it was featured in a tiny story on page 5.
In her speech at Nordic Business Forum in October, Arianna Huffington called for media’s responsibility to cover positive news. Huffington, one of the dynamos of the media revolution, knows what she is talking about.
The human mind is not wired to encounter such an amount of negative incidents and news as it does today. Terror attacks, environmental disasters, sick minds and economic collapse appear on our sofas, in our pockets and on our laps tens of times a day. Twenty five or so years ago they appeared in the TV news once a night and in our print paper once every morning. The news came with a minimum of one day’s delay. We did not hear about every casualty of war, every plane crash, every corrupt banker and every sunken refugee boat instantly. However tragic they might have been. Now the technical evolution eats the humane one for breakfast and we find it difficult to cope with all the digital distress that is offered to us. The analogue era protected us.
A vicious cycle
Unlike it seems, the list of positive news is longer than ever before: decreasing poverty, increasing philanthropy, higher standards of living and health, positive disruptive innovation, democratisation of education, break-through environmental technologies, etc. The list is long and it goes on. And yes, we still have a long mile to run in all these aspects, and yes, the world is confusing and scary, but there is plenty of solid, energising, happy news to be told. Only they aren’t. Why?
Well, for one obvious thing, media is commercialising on the slow evolution of mankind. It is in our genes to protect ourselves against threat and foes. That is why, according to many studies, we go “to attack” and click negative news more often and faster than positive news. The more negative news we are served, the more we click. The more we click, the more negative news we are served. You get the point. Add the commercial logic of media and there we are; the world looks much grimmer than it actually is. When individuals feel worse, so do societies. When societies feels worse, so do individuals. Two downwards spirals neatly but dangerously intertwined.
Change the perspective
It is a matter of perspective. In a classic TV interview for the Danish National TV, Hans Rosling, the esteemed Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institutet, completely dismantles conventional thinking and shows that the opposite is actually true: there are more democracies in the world than before, there is less poverty etc. It’s a matter of facts, not opinions.
All this said, it is indisputable that we are living in a more complex, more confusing and to some extent a more uncertain world. But, as the year 2015 has now ended and we are in the middle of the reporting period, it would be interesting to do an independent review of balance sheet of the news in the world at the year-end. I argue that we would be surprisingly close to break-even. Let’s make a positive result in 2016.
Fredrik Heinonen is a Partner and Deputy CEO at Miltton. Fredi is an eternal optimist with a passionate interest in marketing, society and change.