Sean Dagan Wood on how ‘positive’ news can inspire change & innovation
Sean Dagan Wood speaks about how the media can have a more positive impact on the people and communities it serves. (Screengrab from Wood’s TEDX talk on YouTube.)
Some journalists cringe when they hear the term “positive stories” because it seems to go against what they’ve learned: to question authority, investigate wrongdoings, and shine a light on corruption. Wood explains, however, that positive stories don’t have to be fluffy, happy-go-lucky stories that lack depth.
Rather, positive stories highlight solutions, offer up meaning and hope, and focus on what’s working in communities. Restorative Narratives — a term that ivoh coined to describe stories that show how people and communities are learning to rebuild and recover in the aftermath, or midst of, a difficult situation — fit within this category.
During his talk, Wood also explained the impact of positive news and how it relates to positive psychology.
Here are some transcribed highlights from his talk, with links for additional context:
“What fascinates me about the media is that it doesn’t just mirror society; it also moves society. Where the news places its focus affects our thoughts, our focus, our conversations, our beliefs, and our choices and actions, which ripple out into the world.
“People tell me every day that they’re watching or reading or listening to the news less, precisely because it’s too negative. So this is a shame for journalism and it’s also a shame for society because it can lead people to become disengaged. I want to be clear — I think it’s essential to report crime and war and famine and to expose exploitation and inequality and corruption and to hold power to account, but the overwhelming negativity of much of the media as a whole can turn people away.
“When I join the dots between all these stories that we publish and look at the bigger picture, I see something incredible happening. I see a movement towards new ways of living, new ways of structuring our communities and institutions, and it’s all underpinned by a strengthening of positive, universal human values such as kindness, compassion, cooperation and service to the whole.
“Of course, this isn’t to deny the many and complex problems of the world. And I firmly believe in acknowledging the problems and looking face on at the pain and suffering that’s in the world so that it can be healed. But as well as looking at what we want to move away from, we also need to look at what we want to move towards. So we need stories that will inspire.
“A more positive form of journalism will not only benefit our wellbeing; it will engage us in society and it will help catalyze potential solutions to the problems that we face. And it’s good for journalism as well; it strengthens journalism’s commitment to truth by giving a fuller picture of reality, and it commits journalism to its fundamental ethics, such as minimizing harm. Our readers tell us that the stories that we publish have a profound impact on them — on how they feel, on how they look at the world and how they go about their lives.
“[Barbara Fredrickson has found that] when positive emotions cross through us, our awareness expands from our habitual focus on ourselves to a more generous focus on the collective. … Negative emotions have proved useful for human beings in survival fight or flight situations. But it’s positive emotions that have driven civilization forward because they foster creativity and innovation. …
“We have a choice as to which lens we take to look at the world, and a choice as to what kinds of stories we create and bring our attention to. So my vision is for a news media that increasingly waters the seeds of transformation by reporting in a way that, rather than triggering fear, instead triggers the human spirit. We can bring our attention to those stories that make us come alive. Because if we change the story, we change the world.”
You can watch Wood’s full TEDx talk here:
Related: How constructive journalism, solutions journalism, and restorative narratives are changing the media landscape | How constructive journalism can improve the way media makers tell stories | Solutions Journalism Network’s David Bornstein: ‘Problems scream but the solutions whisper’