Cartoon by Betsy Streeter.
Danish student Isabella Nygaard Gorzelak believes news is fantastic but that journalists need to lighten up.
"I think we must move away from the negative side," she wrote in a prize-winning essay. "After all, we are comfortably off, and we live in a beautiful world, don’t we?"
Gorzelak cited her own experience as a target after the "shower of negative" news after a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, sparking outrage around the world among Muslims whose religtion prohibits any such depiction. "I was traveling with my family around Europe and sometimes we chose not to tell people we were Danish because we felt uncomfortable about it," she said. "I did not like being the victim of negative coverage at all, and I am sure that the Syrians and Somalis do not like it either, when we subject them to the same kind of thing."
Joint sponsors, the Danish Media Association and European Capital of Culture Aarhus 2017, had challenged Danish secondary students to "rethink journalism" (Rethink is the theme of Aarhus 2017).
"There is reason to interpret the message in the winning essay as a voice from future media user generations," said Aslak Gottlieb, news in education manager for the association and author of an upcoming study on what teenagers expect from news. "They will demand a more constructive and solution based kind of news. Publishers should listen to seriously to this in their long term editorial strategies."
A notable number of both young people and news people echo Ms. Gorzelak's sentiments. For example, a 2015 survey by the national BBC broadcaster found that 64 percent of British people under age 35 wanted news to provide solutions to problems, not just news that told them about certain issues.
News publishers in several countries already do give their readers a scheduled break from the bleak. This has been a longtime Sunday habit of The Philippine Daily Inquirer and, for about a year, the Monday fare of India's Dainik Bhashkar. That doesn't mean all is sweet. "As a responsible newspaper, we did not deprive our 44 million readers from the negative things happening in the society," explains Vinay Maheshwari, senior vice president. "An issue that is relevant, critical and negative on a Monday is published prominently under a clear header" El Colombiano of Colombia takes a slightly different approach, regularly labelling uplifting stories as such.
Indeed, the whole movement of solutions and constructive journalism speak to her concerns. [You can read a recent overview ihere.]
Here is Ms. Gorzelak's winning essay in full:
The news plays an important part in our society. It enables us to keep up with what is going on, both in the wider world and in the local community around us. The news enables us to form our own opinions about all the things we think are important, and to leave out those that are not.
But do we really understand what is important? Or do we sometimes forget what is significant? I sometimes think we forget to focus on the good things. At times we see the world in a negative light, because we focus on what is negative. We want to close the borders to people from other cultures because we are afraid of anything new, and because a very small number of these people are bad. It has been discussed a thousand times in the news, and every time it is presented as a bad thing that “they” come here. But is it really ourselves there is something wrong with?
Perhaps we forget the good things? Perhaps we forget that for the first time there is a vaccine against the mosquito-borne disease, malaria, ready for trial in the real world, and that now there is better access to clean drinking water and sanitation in many parts of Asia?
In Denmark we have suffered ourselves from a shower of negative news. People once looked down on us, and we were the ones who were evil. When the Mohammed cartoons came out, the news media ran amok all over the world. At the time, I was travelling with my family on a tour through Europe, and sometimes we chose not to tell people we were Danish, because we felt uncomfortable about it. I did not like being the victim of negative coverage at all, and I am sure that the Syrians and Somalis do not like it either, when we subject them to the same kind of thing. People should be able to be proud of their nationality. They should not go about feeling worried about telling others where they come from.
And isn’t that what we do to others, for example when we close the borders to particular groups of the world's population? Should we not treat others the way we would like them to treat us? We do not like being spoken about as bad people in the news, so how does it happen that the negative view is so predominant? Perhaps it is because many people think the negative side is far more interesting than the positive. I know the situation myself, and I am drawn by negative things. Headlines about death, murder and horrors start you thinking and get your adrenaline up. It makes no real difference, whether it is happening on the other side of the world and has nothing to do with us at all. We get caught up in it, in the same way as a fly gets caught in a spider’s web. Fast, and without a chance of pulling itself free.
Still, even when I am so fascinated, at the same time I want to resist all the negative forces that live in the news. I feel there is a little spark inside me that gives me the courage to say stop. I want to get up and fight, so that we begin together to focus on the positive things that are also going on around us every single day.
There is something fantastic about the news. It gives us so much information. But how much of what we read, hear on the radio, or see on television can we in actual fact put to any use? There is a flood of superfluous news. We are bombarded with it every day. We humans are fascinated by sensations. But do I really need to know, for example, that a bus tipped over in India? The problem is that it is difficult to find news that the whole population of Denmark can relate to, and that we all will find interesting. That is precisely why it is important that we hear a little about everything. Then we must not focus only on the negative side, but we must not forget it completely either. The world is so huge, and of course, there are many things that are dreadful, but there are also many fantastic things that must come out. Surely it is not boring to hear that people are doing well in other countries, if it means they have a good life?
I live in a country where it is possible for me to get a wide range of different information by reading and listening to the news. I am privileged in that I can follow what is going on in the world at any time. However, I think it is time we decided what it is important to promote in the news. And then, of course, there are all the different opinions about them. I think we must move away from the negative side. After all, we are comfortably off and we live in a beautiful world, don’t we?
-- Isabella Nygaard Gorzelak