Negativity feeds more negativity and positivity begets more positivity, so why do we keep telling bad stories and why are we so addicted to the sadness of the human condition? Or are we? Do we really desire these negative stories that are fed to us like a drug every day on every media outlet on every platform? Or has it just become easier for new organizations and journalists to troll stories that feed the negative in all of us and allow it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy that "well we are just giving the people what they want." Are we? The answer isn’t black or white.
Well first we need to ask ourselves what is it about storytelling that we find fascinating. What does the hearty laughter from a movie like Superbad have in common with the sheer terror from a horror classic like Gigli? (Editor’s note: while not a traditional horror film, the point of the writer is noted.) We simply like to be entertained, and are willing to suspend our disbeliefs. The joy of transporting ourselves to an alternate universe, experiencing a period piece as if we were there, or escaping our realties by reveling in a comedy. We experience this form of entertainment to escape and free ourselves from our lives.
The news isn’t completely different. While many of us who watch the news believe we do so out of civic duty and to stay informed, most of us are actually seeking entertainment. We like negativity because it serves us. Negative storytelling tells us the world is a crazy place and any challenges we may be experiencing in our own lives are minor in comparison. Negative storytelling gives us an apparent reason for our struggles and gets us angry. News organizations capitalize on this because they know that we seek the news we want to hear. We visit the sites that share our beliefs because we’re unconsciously trying to confirm our biases.
News is a product. Organizations make content to feed this human behavior. They tell us the stories we're already telling ourselves. It’s why every nightly news show follows the same pattern: lead off with the latest natural or manmade disaster, follow-up with the latest product recall, and end the show on a lighter note with an “inspiring” story when most of the audience has long changed the channel.
We need to flip the script and respond to anger with love. We need to inspire each other instead of tearing down the ideas of others and organizations have begun to do just that. TED Talks are arguably at the forefront of this and their speeches have accumulated billions of views across the globe. Events at the 92nd Street Y are consistently sold out and “moonshot” is an increasingly common household term. The rest of the news world needs to catch up and stop trying to capitalize on our fears. We want to be inspired…and they need to give us what we want.