Our last article went out less than three weeks ago. There's been a lot of awful news since then. #Brexit, Orlando, Baghdad, Turkey, #BlackLivesMatter, Venezuela. Climate change, inequality, racism, extremism. Our social media feeds have been full of it. It's all been pretty depressing. However... before you despair, perhaps we could encourage you to ask three simple questions the next time you encounter a bad news story.
1) Who's writing it?
Journalism is one of the least diverse professions in the English speaking world. Most of it is written by middle class, well educated people. Political opinions might differ amongst newspapers, TV channels, or websites, but the concerns of the writers are the same. The reason you probably heard very few dissenting opinions on #brexit, for example, was because the older, less educated people who supported the Leave campaign don't have much of a voice in the British media, and probably aren't part of your social circle. It's why we get so much hand-wringing about inequality, despite the fact that the last twenty years have been fantastic for the global poor. Ever wonder why there are so many stories about the death of printed journalism? Its because it's a big deal for the people writing those articles.
2) Why are you hearing about this?
Thanks to the internet, we're far more aware these days of bad things that are happening. Racial, gender and sexual discrimination are old problems, and certainly nothing new to people who've always been on the receiving end. Today though, thanks to digital technologies, greater transparency and more awareness those problems aren't being ignored like they used to. Greater coverage doesn't always mean social issues are getting worse. Instead, it's usually because they're more on our radar. And that's a good thing.
3) Is there a counter-narrative?
Bad news gets our attention, and that makes more money for media outlets (and Mark Zuckerberg). Unfortunately, this kind of selective reporting distorts our view of the world. Did you know for example, that two weeks before the UK voted to leave the EU, the African Union announced a continent wide passport for all 54 of its countries? Did you know that there's been a massive decline in gun deaths, in black incarceration rates, and in police shootings in the US in the last few decades? Did you know that there's a third candidate named Gary Johnson in the US election, and he's more popular than Trump with 18-29 year old voters? We're not suggesting that every bad news story has a good news corollary. Balance doesn't have to mean symmetry, and the world is never that black and white. But it is worth asking yourself whether there are more sophisticated versions of the usual narratives you hear out there.