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Episode
15

Why Is All The News So Negative? And What If It Wasn't?

First published on
January 7, 2020
Arts & Culture
-
19
minutes
Philosophy
The news

Why is the news always full of disasters?

What would the world be like if it wasn't?

In today's episode we take a look at some of the theories about why the news is always so negative, and imagine what kind of world might exist if it wasn't.

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Download transcript & key vocabulary pdf
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript & key vocabulary pdf

Transcript

[00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. I'm Alastair Budge. 

[00:00:11] It's a new year and a new decade, which is exciting news, good news. But unfortunately, I have some bad news for you. 

[00:00:20] It's that no doubt today and this week and this year's newspapers will be filled with all sorts of bad news, floods, famines, murders, terrible things, just generally stuff going wrong. 

[00:00:38] Today though, we're going to talk about why that might be, talk about what this constant influx of negative news is doing to us and imagine a world where the news wasn't always quite so negative. 

[00:00:55] I normally start these podcasts with a reminder about how you can get the transcripts and key vocabulary for the podcast on the website, but I'm not going to do that today, or at least not in any more length than I've just done.

[00:01:07] What I will say though is that I want your feedback. 

[00:01:11] I want to know what you like about the podcast, what you don't like, and what we could be doing better. And as a little reward for this feedback, I will personally correct every single one that I receive and send it right back to you.

[00:01:25] So you can think of this as a free bit of English writing practice from a teacher and native speaker. 

[00:01:31] So what you need to do is email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com with your feedback.

[00:01:37] Just put feedback in the subject line. 

[00:01:39] I'll then correct it and send it straight back to you. 

[00:01:44] Okay then today, let's talk about the news. 

[00:01:47] Not a particular item of news, but the news in general. 

[00:01:52] Specifically, why is the news always so negative? 

[00:01:57] Whether you're tuning in to the news on TV, sitting on a bench, reading a newspaper, or reading news on your phone, or even listening to a podcast, a lot of the news is negative.

[00:02:10] In fact, it's almost always negative. 

[00:02:13] So famines, explosions, murders, genocide

[00:02:18] If you took the news to be a representation of what goes on in the world today, well, it will be quite a bleak picture. 

[00:02:28] Of course, journalists would argue that the entire point of the news is to be newsworthy, right, to be worthy of the news, worthy of being talked about. 

[00:02:40] And it's for exactly this reason that they'd say that the reason the news is negative is because it's not that frequent and that's why it's worth being talked about. 

[00:02:49] They'd say that actually these terrible acts aren't so commonplace, and that's why they make up the news. 

[00:02:56] While of course there is an element of truth to this, what I want to do is look at some of the other reasons why our news might be so negative and take a look at how this affects us as human beings. 

[00:03:10] Let's start by asking ourselves, what is the role of journalism and who decides what is news? 

[00:03:17] Well, when you ask a journalist about why they became a journalist and what role journalism plays in the world, many would answer that it is to tell the stories that would otherwise go untold

[00:03:32] To hold people, organisations, and countries to justice, to tell the world about what goes wrong in the hope that people will hold others accountable

[00:03:44] While this is of course true and a noble pursuit, you still have to ask yourself why these stories are all so bloody and negative.

[00:03:55] Why, when you open a newspaper or turn on the news in the evening, why does it always lead with negative stories? 

[00:04:04] Well, the reality is that it's not really the journalists who decide what makes the news. 

[00:04:10] Yes, they do the research and produce the stories, but if the editorial team decides it's not going to be a good story, then it won't get shown, or at least won't get the prominence that others do. 

[00:04:25] Why? 

[00:04:26] Well, like many things in life, it comes down to money. 

[00:04:29] There's a famous phrase in journalism and that's if it bleeds, it leads.

[00:04:35] Leads here means is the first story to be covered, right? 

[00:04:40] The first story in the newspaper or the first story to come on the news on TV. 

[00:04:45] Although we might not like to think it, humans seem to naturally gravitate towards stories of mortality, stories of things going wrong, and stories of people dying.

[00:04:57] From the Romans at the Colosseum to public executions, to the fact that cars slow down when there's a road accident as the drivers try and catch a look, to news stories about murderers, humans seem naturally attracted to stories of death and blood and gore

[00:05:19] And there are all sorts of theories about why this is.

[00:05:23] Is it because it reminds us that we're alive? 

[00:05:26] Is it a sort of gloating about the fact that you, the listener or the reader or the viewer is more fortunate than the subject of the news item? 

[00:05:39] Or is it because there is some kind of innate human instinct to not look away from others' misfortune? 

[00:05:46] I don't want to go too much into the psychological reasons for this, mainly because I don't know a huge amount about it.

[00:05:54] But the reality is it's taken for granted by news editors that stories full of blood and human misery captivate the viewer or the reader's attention. 

[00:06:09] And there have been numerous studies that have shown just this, right? People love stories about misfortune, and news companies, which let's remember, are first and foremost commercial entities, depend on as many people as possible consuming their content for as long as possible, especially the ones that are supported by advertising business models. Because what happens is the more people are looking at a screen with the stories on or watching TV or opening up the pages of a newspaper, the more eyeballs there are and the more value the media company can get by selling those to commercial advertisers. 

[00:06:54] And while editorial and commercial teams in newsrooms are theoretically separated, in many cases, this Chinese wall is actually quite thin, especially with ad-supported media, it's the advertisers who ultimately pay the journalist's salaries, and so they need to make sure that the stories are generating enough interest to keep the advertisers happy. 

[00:07:19] Yeah. If this is bursting your bubble, I'm sorry, but media companies can really tell exactly how much each article has earned them, and thus a journalist is to a commercial department, just another income and expense item.

[00:07:35] So you can see the cost of producing a story and then the amount of revenue it has brought in in terms of that, either that advertising revenue or the number of people who have read the story and evidently need to stay profitable a media company needs to have stories that bring in more money than it costs to make them.

[00:07:56] And that's business 101 really. 

[00:07:59] And so if as humans we are naturally gravitating towards stories of blood and misfortune, and the news is very skewed towards the negative because that's what sells, how does this actually affect us as human beings? 

[00:08:17] Unfortunately, like the subject of this podcast, it's not very good news.

[00:08:23] There's a lot of evidence to suggest that there are some pretty negative mental health effects associated with consuming large amounts of news. 

[00:08:32] If you're just consuming negative content, it's very easy to get into the mindset that the world is a terrible place full of terrible people doing terrible things. 

[00:08:43] Indeed, when you're only exposed to negative stories, it's increasingly hard to imagine positive things. Studies show that people develop a sense of anxiety and a feeling of helplessness, and if you're bombarded with negative stories and you're just one person out of, you know, 7 billion in the world today, it's completely natural to feel a sense of helplessness.

[00:09:12] I guess perhaps this might be something that you can empathise with. So on a personal level, it's disturbing, but on a wider level, the constant bombardment of negative news can also lead to people having a skewed perception of what truth is. 

[00:09:31] So when people are asked about the perceived risk of something happening, something that is frequently mentioned in the news is almost always considered to be more likely than it is. 

[00:09:43] So, for example, despite the fact that crime in the UK had actually been falling since 1995 a recent survey showed that 60% of people in England and Wales think it's been rising. So what's the cause of that? Mainly constant news stories about crime.

[00:10:03] Understandably, if you're bombarded with news about a particular thing, you're more likely to think that it's happening frequently. 

[00:10:12] This, I imagine, is all quite familiar to you. 

[00:10:15] And as humans we are really bad at actually understanding risk. 

[00:10:19] If we hear a story of something happening, we automatically think it might happen to us, even if the risks statistically are minuscule

[00:10:29] But even worse than this, after someone is told the truth, humans are very bad at recalibrating their original idea. 

[00:10:40] One very interesting thing that is actually quite scary is that even after we are told the truth, right, even after we have, statistics that are believable and true shown to us, we are very bad at recalibrating ourselves and we're not very good at forgetting that original point of reference.

[00:11:04] So if you have a point of reference about something, that is your reference point, and people really struggle to move too far away from their original idea. 

[00:11:15] So this is something called judgemental anchoring

[00:11:18] A fascinating example of this was something called the Gandhi thought experiment. 

[00:11:24] Back in 1997 a group of behavioural psychologists took a group of participants and they split them into two groups.

[00:11:35] One group was asked whether Gandhi was older than 140 when he died, and the other group was asked whether he was younger than nine. 

[00:11:46] Right, so two groups. One asked whether Gandhi was older than 140, the other asked if he was younger than nine. 

[00:11:54] Of course, both of these options are pretty implausible.

[00:11:58] Even if you don't know much about the life of Gandhi, you probably know his name and you assume that he must have done enough with his life to have died when he was older than nine. And you probably also think, well, nobody lives to 140 so he must've been younger than that. 

[00:12:15] But each group only had this one point of reference in their head about the age when Gandhi died. 

[00:12:24] They were then asked to state how old they thought he was when he died.

[00:12:29] The group that had been given that over 140 anchor gave an average of 67 whereas the group that had been given the less than nine option gave an average of 50. 

[00:12:44] So despite the implausibility of the original question, people are anchored, they're glued to the first piece of information that they are made aware of, and that just anchors everything in their mind.

[00:12:59] So bringing this back to the negativity of the news, if people are constantly bombarded with negative pieces of information, then this is their anchor. And no matter how much positive information they see, even if it's contradictory to the first piece, it's difficult to unwed, difficult to move yourself away from the first piece of information that you received.

[00:13:23] It's mad, right?

[00:13:25] So again, bringing it back to the news, it means that even if we know that all these tragic events aren't really likely to happen to us, the fact that we've heard about them means they're still in the back of our minds. We're still thinking about them and we can't ignore them as a reference point.

[00:13:41] But what if the world wasn't like this? 

[00:13:44] What if news wasn't always so negative? 

[00:13:48] Should it really be that as humans, we only like to hear negative stories of industrial accidents, famines, bushfires, and we just accept that we all feel helpless in the face of the world's problems? 

[00:14:03] And we feel that the role of news is just to frighten us and make us overestimate the probability of terrible things happening.

[00:14:12] Well, I recently finished a book called, You Are What You Read by a lady called Jodie Jackson, and she certainly thinks it doesn't need to be like this. 

[00:14:22] She has been arguing for a solutions-based approach to journalism, which means an approach where the news doesn't just talk about the terrible things that have happened in the world, but that highlights the positive things that have happened.

[00:14:39] And no, she is not advocating for a world where the news reports that no planes have crashed, or actually you don't have to be worried about being eaten by a shark. 

[00:14:50] Of course, this wouldn't really be interesting. 

[00:14:53] Solutions based journalism highlights stories of things that people have done in the world that inspire people.

[00:15:01] They are stories of people, of organisations and countries doing things that are making the world a better place. Instead of highlighting disasters, it would be highlighting how disasters can be avoided. 

[00:15:17] It could be highlighting great things that people have done, inventions, great acts and things that inspire and uplift as opposed to strike fear into the minds of the viewer, of the reader. 

[00:15:32] It's really early days for this kind of journalism, but if you're interested, you should definitely check her out. 

[00:15:37] You can check out her website at jodiejackson.com 

[00:15:41] I certainly think that there is a lot to be said for this kind of optimistic journalism, and certainly on this podcast, we're trying to tell inspiring stories about fascinating things, not frighten you with terrible news stories. 

[00:15:56] In any case, if you are fed up of the constant negativity of the news cycle, then you shouldn't just throw up your hands and say 'pah', nothing we can do about it. 

[00:16:07] There are things you can do about it, and this doesn't mean that you have to retreat to a cottage in the middle of the woods with no electricity. 

[00:16:15] Firstly, one thing that you can immediately do is to limit your intake of news. 

[00:16:22] Yes, it's good to be informed, but there are many, many more productive uses of the hours in your day than being glued to a TV or website waiting to be updated on the latest famine, bushfire or plane crash. 

[00:16:36] It's just simply not healthy. You can search out positive news stories, read longer form articles that inform and educate, not just fearmonger and scare. 

[00:16:49] And of course, listen to podcasts, not just this one, although of course, I hope that you will continue to do so, but there are thousands out there, both in English and I'm sure in your mother tongue that will teach and inform, not scare and frighten. I guess if you're listening to this podcast, then you are also learning English, and while flicking through the news or flicking through social media might feel like a immediately good thing to do, long term it's probably not very good for you and you know that you would be much better spending that time doing some kind of English learning activity. 

[00:17:29] Which brings me on to the final point. 

[00:17:31] So just read and listen to fiction. The human brain is the most amazing tool, and whether you're trying to read in English or in your own language fiction really is nutrition for the imagination. 

[00:17:46] So picking up a fiction book and reading that for 30 minutes before you go to sleep will definitely leave you feeling more energised and less anxious than, you know, scrolling through the latest headlines or flicking through whatever your favourite social media app might be.

[00:18:03] So just try it right, try it for a week. 

[00:18:06] Stop reading the news, cut yourself off. I'm sure that your fears of being out of the loop won't really be true and there will certainly be outweighed by feelings of freshness and positivity and hopefully also improved English. What a fantastic way to start the year.

[00:18:25] Okay then, as always, thank you very much for listening to the show. I hope it has not been too negative, and I think there is some good news at the end.

[00:18:36] As I said at the start of the podcast, I would love to know what you think of the show.

[00:18:41] You can send in your feedback too hi at Leonardoenglish.com with feedback in the subject line. I will correct it and send it straight back to you. I can't wait to hear what you have to say.

[00:18:52] You've been listening to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. I'm Alastair Budge and I'll catch you in the next episode.



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[00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. I'm Alastair Budge. 

[00:00:11] It's a new year and a new decade, which is exciting news, good news. But unfortunately, I have some bad news for you. 

[00:00:20] It's that no doubt today and this week and this year's newspapers will be filled with all sorts of bad news, floods, famines, murders, terrible things, just generally stuff going wrong. 

[00:00:38] Today though, we're going to talk about why that might be, talk about what this constant influx of negative news is doing to us and imagine a world where the news wasn't always quite so negative. 

[00:00:55] I normally start these podcasts with a reminder about how you can get the transcripts and key vocabulary for the podcast on the website, but I'm not going to do that today, or at least not in any more length than I've just done.

[00:01:07] What I will say though is that I want your feedback. 

[00:01:11] I want to know what you like about the podcast, what you don't like, and what we could be doing better. And as a little reward for this feedback, I will personally correct every single one that I receive and send it right back to you.

[00:01:25] So you can think of this as a free bit of English writing practice from a teacher and native speaker. 

[00:01:31] So what you need to do is email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com with your feedback.

[00:01:37] Just put feedback in the subject line. 

[00:01:39] I'll then correct it and send it straight back to you. 

[00:01:44] Okay then today, let's talk about the news. 

[00:01:47] Not a particular item of news, but the news in general. 

[00:01:52] Specifically, why is the news always so negative? 

[00:01:57] Whether you're tuning in to the news on TV, sitting on a bench, reading a newspaper, or reading news on your phone, or even listening to a podcast, a lot of the news is negative.

[00:02:10] In fact, it's almost always negative. 

[00:02:13] So famines, explosions, murders, genocide

[00:02:18] If you took the news to be a representation of what goes on in the world today, well, it will be quite a bleak picture. 

[00:02:28] Of course, journalists would argue that the entire point of the news is to be newsworthy, right, to be worthy of the news, worthy of being talked about. 

[00:02:40] And it's for exactly this reason that they'd say that the reason the news is negative is because it's not that frequent and that's why it's worth being talked about. 

[00:02:49] They'd say that actually these terrible acts aren't so commonplace, and that's why they make up the news. 

[00:02:56] While of course there is an element of truth to this, what I want to do is look at some of the other reasons why our news might be so negative and take a look at how this affects us as human beings. 

[00:03:10] Let's start by asking ourselves, what is the role of journalism and who decides what is news? 

[00:03:17] Well, when you ask a journalist about why they became a journalist and what role journalism plays in the world, many would answer that it is to tell the stories that would otherwise go untold

[00:03:32] To hold people, organisations, and countries to justice, to tell the world about what goes wrong in the hope that people will hold others accountable

[00:03:44] While this is of course true and a noble pursuit, you still have to ask yourself why these stories are all so bloody and negative.

[00:03:55] Why, when you open a newspaper or turn on the news in the evening, why does it always lead with negative stories? 

[00:04:04] Well, the reality is that it's not really the journalists who decide what makes the news. 

[00:04:10] Yes, they do the research and produce the stories, but if the editorial team decides it's not going to be a good story, then it won't get shown, or at least won't get the prominence that others do. 

[00:04:25] Why? 

[00:04:26] Well, like many things in life, it comes down to money. 

[00:04:29] There's a famous phrase in journalism and that's if it bleeds, it leads.

[00:04:35] Leads here means is the first story to be covered, right? 

[00:04:40] The first story in the newspaper or the first story to come on the news on TV. 

[00:04:45] Although we might not like to think it, humans seem to naturally gravitate towards stories of mortality, stories of things going wrong, and stories of people dying.

[00:04:57] From the Romans at the Colosseum to public executions, to the fact that cars slow down when there's a road accident as the drivers try and catch a look, to news stories about murderers, humans seem naturally attracted to stories of death and blood and gore

[00:05:19] And there are all sorts of theories about why this is.

[00:05:23] Is it because it reminds us that we're alive? 

[00:05:26] Is it a sort of gloating about the fact that you, the listener or the reader or the viewer is more fortunate than the subject of the news item? 

[00:05:39] Or is it because there is some kind of innate human instinct to not look away from others' misfortune? 

[00:05:46] I don't want to go too much into the psychological reasons for this, mainly because I don't know a huge amount about it.

[00:05:54] But the reality is it's taken for granted by news editors that stories full of blood and human misery captivate the viewer or the reader's attention. 

[00:06:09] And there have been numerous studies that have shown just this, right? People love stories about misfortune, and news companies, which let's remember, are first and foremost commercial entities, depend on as many people as possible consuming their content for as long as possible, especially the ones that are supported by advertising business models. Because what happens is the more people are looking at a screen with the stories on or watching TV or opening up the pages of a newspaper, the more eyeballs there are and the more value the media company can get by selling those to commercial advertisers. 

[00:06:54] And while editorial and commercial teams in newsrooms are theoretically separated, in many cases, this Chinese wall is actually quite thin, especially with ad-supported media, it's the advertisers who ultimately pay the journalist's salaries, and so they need to make sure that the stories are generating enough interest to keep the advertisers happy. 

[00:07:19] Yeah. If this is bursting your bubble, I'm sorry, but media companies can really tell exactly how much each article has earned them, and thus a journalist is to a commercial department, just another income and expense item.

[00:07:35] So you can see the cost of producing a story and then the amount of revenue it has brought in in terms of that, either that advertising revenue or the number of people who have read the story and evidently need to stay profitable a media company needs to have stories that bring in more money than it costs to make them.

[00:07:56] And that's business 101 really. 

[00:07:59] And so if as humans we are naturally gravitating towards stories of blood and misfortune, and the news is very skewed towards the negative because that's what sells, how does this actually affect us as human beings? 

[00:08:17] Unfortunately, like the subject of this podcast, it's not very good news.

[00:08:23] There's a lot of evidence to suggest that there are some pretty negative mental health effects associated with consuming large amounts of news. 

[00:08:32] If you're just consuming negative content, it's very easy to get into the mindset that the world is a terrible place full of terrible people doing terrible things. 

[00:08:43] Indeed, when you're only exposed to negative stories, it's increasingly hard to imagine positive things. Studies show that people develop a sense of anxiety and a feeling of helplessness, and if you're bombarded with negative stories and you're just one person out of, you know, 7 billion in the world today, it's completely natural to feel a sense of helplessness.

[00:09:12] I guess perhaps this might be something that you can empathise with. So on a personal level, it's disturbing, but on a wider level, the constant bombardment of negative news can also lead to people having a skewed perception of what truth is. 

[00:09:31] So when people are asked about the perceived risk of something happening, something that is frequently mentioned in the news is almost always considered to be more likely than it is. 

[00:09:43] So, for example, despite the fact that crime in the UK had actually been falling since 1995 a recent survey showed that 60% of people in England and Wales think it's been rising. So what's the cause of that? Mainly constant news stories about crime.

[00:10:03] Understandably, if you're bombarded with news about a particular thing, you're more likely to think that it's happening frequently. 

[00:10:12] This, I imagine, is all quite familiar to you. 

[00:10:15] And as humans we are really bad at actually understanding risk. 

[00:10:19] If we hear a story of something happening, we automatically think it might happen to us, even if the risks statistically are minuscule

[00:10:29] But even worse than this, after someone is told the truth, humans are very bad at recalibrating their original idea. 

[00:10:40] One very interesting thing that is actually quite scary is that even after we are told the truth, right, even after we have, statistics that are believable and true shown to us, we are very bad at recalibrating ourselves and we're not very good at forgetting that original point of reference.

[00:11:04] So if you have a point of reference about something, that is your reference point, and people really struggle to move too far away from their original idea. 

[00:11:15] So this is something called judgemental anchoring

[00:11:18] A fascinating example of this was something called the Gandhi thought experiment. 

[00:11:24] Back in 1997 a group of behavioural psychologists took a group of participants and they split them into two groups.

[00:11:35] One group was asked whether Gandhi was older than 140 when he died, and the other group was asked whether he was younger than nine. 

[00:11:46] Right, so two groups. One asked whether Gandhi was older than 140, the other asked if he was younger than nine. 

[00:11:54] Of course, both of these options are pretty implausible.

[00:11:58] Even if you don't know much about the life of Gandhi, you probably know his name and you assume that he must have done enough with his life to have died when he was older than nine. And you probably also think, well, nobody lives to 140 so he must've been younger than that. 

[00:12:15] But each group only had this one point of reference in their head about the age when Gandhi died. 

[00:12:24] They were then asked to state how old they thought he was when he died.

[00:12:29] The group that had been given that over 140 anchor gave an average of 67 whereas the group that had been given the less than nine option gave an average of 50. 

[00:12:44] So despite the implausibility of the original question, people are anchored, they're glued to the first piece of information that they are made aware of, and that just anchors everything in their mind.

[00:12:59] So bringing this back to the negativity of the news, if people are constantly bombarded with negative pieces of information, then this is their anchor. And no matter how much positive information they see, even if it's contradictory to the first piece, it's difficult to unwed, difficult to move yourself away from the first piece of information that you received.

[00:13:23] It's mad, right?

[00:13:25] So again, bringing it back to the news, it means that even if we know that all these tragic events aren't really likely to happen to us, the fact that we've heard about them means they're still in the back of our minds. We're still thinking about them and we can't ignore them as a reference point.

[00:13:41] But what if the world wasn't like this? 

[00:13:44] What if news wasn't always so negative? 

[00:13:48] Should it really be that as humans, we only like to hear negative stories of industrial accidents, famines, bushfires, and we just accept that we all feel helpless in the face of the world's problems? 

[00:14:03] And we feel that the role of news is just to frighten us and make us overestimate the probability of terrible things happening.

[00:14:12] Well, I recently finished a book called, You Are What You Read by a lady called Jodie Jackson, and she certainly thinks it doesn't need to be like this. 

[00:14:22] She has been arguing for a solutions-based approach to journalism, which means an approach where the news doesn't just talk about the terrible things that have happened in the world, but that highlights the positive things that have happened.

[00:14:39] And no, she is not advocating for a world where the news reports that no planes have crashed, or actually you don't have to be worried about being eaten by a shark. 

[00:14:50] Of course, this wouldn't really be interesting. 

[00:14:53] Solutions based journalism highlights stories of things that people have done in the world that inspire people.

[00:15:01] They are stories of people, of organisations and countries doing things that are making the world a better place. Instead of highlighting disasters, it would be highlighting how disasters can be avoided. 

[00:15:17] It could be highlighting great things that people have done, inventions, great acts and things that inspire and uplift as opposed to strike fear into the minds of the viewer, of the reader. 

[00:15:32] It's really early days for this kind of journalism, but if you're interested, you should definitely check her out. 

[00:15:37] You can check out her website at jodiejackson.com 

[00:15:41] I certainly think that there is a lot to be said for this kind of optimistic journalism, and certainly on this podcast, we're trying to tell inspiring stories about fascinating things, not frighten you with terrible news stories. 

[00:15:56] In any case, if you are fed up of the constant negativity of the news cycle, then you shouldn't just throw up your hands and say 'pah', nothing we can do about it. 

[00:16:07] There are things you can do about it, and this doesn't mean that you have to retreat to a cottage in the middle of the woods with no electricity. 

[00:16:15] Firstly, one thing that you can immediately do is to limit your intake of news. 

[00:16:22] Yes, it's good to be informed, but there are many, many more productive uses of the hours in your day than being glued to a TV or website waiting to be updated on the latest famine, bushfire or plane crash. 

[00:16:36] It's just simply not healthy. You can search out positive news stories, read longer form articles that inform and educate, not just fearmonger and scare. 

[00:16:49] And of course, listen to podcasts, not just this one, although of course, I hope that you will continue to do so, but there are thousands out there, both in English and I'm sure in your mother tongue that will teach and inform, not scare and frighten. I guess if you're listening to this podcast, then you are also learning English, and while flicking through the news or flicking through social media might feel like a immediately good thing to do, long term it's probably not very good for you and you know that you would be much better spending that time doing some kind of English learning activity. 

[00:17:29] Which brings me on to the final point. 

[00:17:31] So just read and listen to fiction. The human brain is the most amazing tool, and whether you're trying to read in English or in your own language fiction really is nutrition for the imagination. 

[00:17:46] So picking up a fiction book and reading that for 30 minutes before you go to sleep will definitely leave you feeling more energised and less anxious than, you know, scrolling through the latest headlines or flicking through whatever your favourite social media app might be.

[00:18:03] So just try it right, try it for a week. 

[00:18:06] Stop reading the news, cut yourself off. I'm sure that your fears of being out of the loop won't really be true and there will certainly be outweighed by feelings of freshness and positivity and hopefully also improved English. What a fantastic way to start the year.

[00:18:25] Okay then, as always, thank you very much for listening to the show. I hope it has not been too negative, and I think there is some good news at the end.

[00:18:36] As I said at the start of the podcast, I would love to know what you think of the show.

[00:18:41] You can send in your feedback too hi at Leonardoenglish.com with feedback in the subject line. I will correct it and send it straight back to you. I can't wait to hear what you have to say.

[00:18:52] You've been listening to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. I'm Alastair Budge and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. I'm Alastair Budge. 

[00:00:11] It's a new year and a new decade, which is exciting news, good news. But unfortunately, I have some bad news for you. 

[00:00:20] It's that no doubt today and this week and this year's newspapers will be filled with all sorts of bad news, floods, famines, murders, terrible things, just generally stuff going wrong. 

[00:00:38] Today though, we're going to talk about why that might be, talk about what this constant influx of negative news is doing to us and imagine a world where the news wasn't always quite so negative. 

[00:00:55] I normally start these podcasts with a reminder about how you can get the transcripts and key vocabulary for the podcast on the website, but I'm not going to do that today, or at least not in any more length than I've just done.

[00:01:07] What I will say though is that I want your feedback. 

[00:01:11] I want to know what you like about the podcast, what you don't like, and what we could be doing better. And as a little reward for this feedback, I will personally correct every single one that I receive and send it right back to you.

[00:01:25] So you can think of this as a free bit of English writing practice from a teacher and native speaker. 

[00:01:31] So what you need to do is email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com with your feedback.

[00:01:37] Just put feedback in the subject line. 

[00:01:39] I'll then correct it and send it straight back to you. 

[00:01:44] Okay then today, let's talk about the news. 

[00:01:47] Not a particular item of news, but the news in general. 

[00:01:52] Specifically, why is the news always so negative? 

[00:01:57] Whether you're tuning in to the news on TV, sitting on a bench, reading a newspaper, or reading news on your phone, or even listening to a podcast, a lot of the news is negative.

[00:02:10] In fact, it's almost always negative. 

[00:02:13] So famines, explosions, murders, genocide

[00:02:18] If you took the news to be a representation of what goes on in the world today, well, it will be quite a bleak picture. 

[00:02:28] Of course, journalists would argue that the entire point of the news is to be newsworthy, right, to be worthy of the news, worthy of being talked about. 

[00:02:40] And it's for exactly this reason that they'd say that the reason the news is negative is because it's not that frequent and that's why it's worth being talked about. 

[00:02:49] They'd say that actually these terrible acts aren't so commonplace, and that's why they make up the news. 

[00:02:56] While of course there is an element of truth to this, what I want to do is look at some of the other reasons why our news might be so negative and take a look at how this affects us as human beings. 

[00:03:10] Let's start by asking ourselves, what is the role of journalism and who decides what is news? 

[00:03:17] Well, when you ask a journalist about why they became a journalist and what role journalism plays in the world, many would answer that it is to tell the stories that would otherwise go untold

[00:03:32] To hold people, organisations, and countries to justice, to tell the world about what goes wrong in the hope that people will hold others accountable

[00:03:44] While this is of course true and a noble pursuit, you still have to ask yourself why these stories are all so bloody and negative.

[00:03:55] Why, when you open a newspaper or turn on the news in the evening, why does it always lead with negative stories? 

[00:04:04] Well, the reality is that it's not really the journalists who decide what makes the news. 

[00:04:10] Yes, they do the research and produce the stories, but if the editorial team decides it's not going to be a good story, then it won't get shown, or at least won't get the prominence that others do. 

[00:04:25] Why? 

[00:04:26] Well, like many things in life, it comes down to money. 

[00:04:29] There's a famous phrase in journalism and that's if it bleeds, it leads.

[00:04:35] Leads here means is the first story to be covered, right? 

[00:04:40] The first story in the newspaper or the first story to come on the news on TV. 

[00:04:45] Although we might not like to think it, humans seem to naturally gravitate towards stories of mortality, stories of things going wrong, and stories of people dying.

[00:04:57] From the Romans at the Colosseum to public executions, to the fact that cars slow down when there's a road accident as the drivers try and catch a look, to news stories about murderers, humans seem naturally attracted to stories of death and blood and gore

[00:05:19] And there are all sorts of theories about why this is.

[00:05:23] Is it because it reminds us that we're alive? 

[00:05:26] Is it a sort of gloating about the fact that you, the listener or the reader or the viewer is more fortunate than the subject of the news item? 

[00:05:39] Or is it because there is some kind of innate human instinct to not look away from others' misfortune? 

[00:05:46] I don't want to go too much into the psychological reasons for this, mainly because I don't know a huge amount about it.

[00:05:54] But the reality is it's taken for granted by news editors that stories full of blood and human misery captivate the viewer or the reader's attention. 

[00:06:09] And there have been numerous studies that have shown just this, right? People love stories about misfortune, and news companies, which let's remember, are first and foremost commercial entities, depend on as many people as possible consuming their content for as long as possible, especially the ones that are supported by advertising business models. Because what happens is the more people are looking at a screen with the stories on or watching TV or opening up the pages of a newspaper, the more eyeballs there are and the more value the media company can get by selling those to commercial advertisers. 

[00:06:54] And while editorial and commercial teams in newsrooms are theoretically separated, in many cases, this Chinese wall is actually quite thin, especially with ad-supported media, it's the advertisers who ultimately pay the journalist's salaries, and so they need to make sure that the stories are generating enough interest to keep the advertisers happy. 

[00:07:19] Yeah. If this is bursting your bubble, I'm sorry, but media companies can really tell exactly how much each article has earned them, and thus a journalist is to a commercial department, just another income and expense item.

[00:07:35] So you can see the cost of producing a story and then the amount of revenue it has brought in in terms of that, either that advertising revenue or the number of people who have read the story and evidently need to stay profitable a media company needs to have stories that bring in more money than it costs to make them.

[00:07:56] And that's business 101 really. 

[00:07:59] And so if as humans we are naturally gravitating towards stories of blood and misfortune, and the news is very skewed towards the negative because that's what sells, how does this actually affect us as human beings? 

[00:08:17] Unfortunately, like the subject of this podcast, it's not very good news.

[00:08:23] There's a lot of evidence to suggest that there are some pretty negative mental health effects associated with consuming large amounts of news. 

[00:08:32] If you're just consuming negative content, it's very easy to get into the mindset that the world is a terrible place full of terrible people doing terrible things. 

[00:08:43] Indeed, when you're only exposed to negative stories, it's increasingly hard to imagine positive things. Studies show that people develop a sense of anxiety and a feeling of helplessness, and if you're bombarded with negative stories and you're just one person out of, you know, 7 billion in the world today, it's completely natural to feel a sense of helplessness.

[00:09:12] I guess perhaps this might be something that you can empathise with. So on a personal level, it's disturbing, but on a wider level, the constant bombardment of negative news can also lead to people having a skewed perception of what truth is. 

[00:09:31] So when people are asked about the perceived risk of something happening, something that is frequently mentioned in the news is almost always considered to be more likely than it is. 

[00:09:43] So, for example, despite the fact that crime in the UK had actually been falling since 1995 a recent survey showed that 60% of people in England and Wales think it's been rising. So what's the cause of that? Mainly constant news stories about crime.

[00:10:03] Understandably, if you're bombarded with news about a particular thing, you're more likely to think that it's happening frequently. 

[00:10:12] This, I imagine, is all quite familiar to you. 

[00:10:15] And as humans we are really bad at actually understanding risk. 

[00:10:19] If we hear a story of something happening, we automatically think it might happen to us, even if the risks statistically are minuscule

[00:10:29] But even worse than this, after someone is told the truth, humans are very bad at recalibrating their original idea. 

[00:10:40] One very interesting thing that is actually quite scary is that even after we are told the truth, right, even after we have, statistics that are believable and true shown to us, we are very bad at recalibrating ourselves and we're not very good at forgetting that original point of reference.

[00:11:04] So if you have a point of reference about something, that is your reference point, and people really struggle to move too far away from their original idea. 

[00:11:15] So this is something called judgemental anchoring

[00:11:18] A fascinating example of this was something called the Gandhi thought experiment. 

[00:11:24] Back in 1997 a group of behavioural psychologists took a group of participants and they split them into two groups.

[00:11:35] One group was asked whether Gandhi was older than 140 when he died, and the other group was asked whether he was younger than nine. 

[00:11:46] Right, so two groups. One asked whether Gandhi was older than 140, the other asked if he was younger than nine. 

[00:11:54] Of course, both of these options are pretty implausible.

[00:11:58] Even if you don't know much about the life of Gandhi, you probably know his name and you assume that he must have done enough with his life to have died when he was older than nine. And you probably also think, well, nobody lives to 140 so he must've been younger than that. 

[00:12:15] But each group only had this one point of reference in their head about the age when Gandhi died. 

[00:12:24] They were then asked to state how old they thought he was when he died.

[00:12:29] The group that had been given that over 140 anchor gave an average of 67 whereas the group that had been given the less than nine option gave an average of 50. 

[00:12:44] So despite the implausibility of the original question, people are anchored, they're glued to the first piece of information that they are made aware of, and that just anchors everything in their mind.

[00:12:59] So bringing this back to the negativity of the news, if people are constantly bombarded with negative pieces of information, then this is their anchor. And no matter how much positive information they see, even if it's contradictory to the first piece, it's difficult to unwed, difficult to move yourself away from the first piece of information that you received.

[00:13:23] It's mad, right?

[00:13:25] So again, bringing it back to the news, it means that even if we know that all these tragic events aren't really likely to happen to us, the fact that we've heard about them means they're still in the back of our minds. We're still thinking about them and we can't ignore them as a reference point.

[00:13:41] But what if the world wasn't like this? 

[00:13:44] What if news wasn't always so negative? 

[00:13:48] Should it really be that as humans, we only like to hear negative stories of industrial accidents, famines, bushfires, and we just accept that we all feel helpless in the face of the world's problems? 

[00:14:03] And we feel that the role of news is just to frighten us and make us overestimate the probability of terrible things happening.

[00:14:12] Well, I recently finished a book called, You Are What You Read by a lady called Jodie Jackson, and she certainly thinks it doesn't need to be like this. 

[00:14:22] She has been arguing for a solutions-based approach to journalism, which means an approach where the news doesn't just talk about the terrible things that have happened in the world, but that highlights the positive things that have happened.

[00:14:39] And no, she is not advocating for a world where the news reports that no planes have crashed, or actually you don't have to be worried about being eaten by a shark. 

[00:14:50] Of course, this wouldn't really be interesting. 

[00:14:53] Solutions based journalism highlights stories of things that people have done in the world that inspire people.

[00:15:01] They are stories of people, of organisations and countries doing things that are making the world a better place. Instead of highlighting disasters, it would be highlighting how disasters can be avoided. 

[00:15:17] It could be highlighting great things that people have done, inventions, great acts and things that inspire and uplift as opposed to strike fear into the minds of the viewer, of the reader. 

[00:15:32] It's really early days for this kind of journalism, but if you're interested, you should definitely check her out. 

[00:15:37] You can check out her website at jodiejackson.com 

[00:15:41] I certainly think that there is a lot to be said for this kind of optimistic journalism, and certainly on this podcast, we're trying to tell inspiring stories about fascinating things, not frighten you with terrible news stories. 

[00:15:56] In any case, if you are fed up of the constant negativity of the news cycle, then you shouldn't just throw up your hands and say 'pah', nothing we can do about it. 

[00:16:07] There are things you can do about it, and this doesn't mean that you have to retreat to a cottage in the middle of the woods with no electricity. 

[00:16:15] Firstly, one thing that you can immediately do is to limit your intake of news. 

[00:16:22] Yes, it's good to be informed, but there are many, many more productive uses of the hours in your day than being glued to a TV or website waiting to be updated on the latest famine, bushfire or plane crash. 

[00:16:36] It's just simply not healthy. You can search out positive news stories, read longer form articles that inform and educate, not just fearmonger and scare. 

[00:16:49] And of course, listen to podcasts, not just this one, although of course, I hope that you will continue to do so, but there are thousands out there, both in English and I'm sure in your mother tongue that will teach and inform, not scare and frighten. I guess if you're listening to this podcast, then you are also learning English, and while flicking through the news or flicking through social media might feel like a immediately good thing to do, long term it's probably not very good for you and you know that you would be much better spending that time doing some kind of English learning activity. 

[00:17:29] Which brings me on to the final point. 

[00:17:31] So just read and listen to fiction. The human brain is the most amazing tool, and whether you're trying to read in English or in your own language fiction really is nutrition for the imagination. 

[00:17:46] So picking up a fiction book and reading that for 30 minutes before you go to sleep will definitely leave you feeling more energised and less anxious than, you know, scrolling through the latest headlines or flicking through whatever your favourite social media app might be.

[00:18:03] So just try it right, try it for a week. 

[00:18:06] Stop reading the news, cut yourself off. I'm sure that your fears of being out of the loop won't really be true and there will certainly be outweighed by feelings of freshness and positivity and hopefully also improved English. What a fantastic way to start the year.

[00:18:25] Okay then, as always, thank you very much for listening to the show. I hope it has not been too negative, and I think there is some good news at the end.

[00:18:36] As I said at the start of the podcast, I would love to know what you think of the show.

[00:18:41] You can send in your feedback too hi at Leonardoenglish.com with feedback in the subject line. I will correct it and send it straight back to you. I can't wait to hear what you have to say.

[00:18:52] You've been listening to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. I'm Alastair Budge and I'll catch you in the next episode.