I recently asked a friend if she’d read an article I had written for WSN and she told me that she doesn’t read the news — it’s too negative, she said, and it always has something to criticize. The negative nature of news is a common critique of journalism as a whole. The general public is constantly bombarded with reports of political chaos, police brutality, protests turned violent and natural disasters around the globe. But if we can ignore the news because it makes us feel sad, then we do so from a point of privilege.
The way we react to the news is not just a reflexive action, but a choice. Movements and protests often come in reaction to a negative incident or ongoing crisis, but this can only happen if people know about the issue in the first place. The positive news we search for can be generated precisely by synthesizing and reacting to the negative news we are so prone to discard.
Reporting on controversial incidents and criticizing questionable practices are integral forms of activism. In 2017, the New York Times published decades worth of allegations against filmmaker Harvey Weinstein. As a result, over 300 women collectively backed the initiative “Time’s Up” to fight systemic sexual harassment in Hollywood and other industries. Just before the 2016 election, the Washington Post obtained and released a tape of then-candidate Donald Trump and Billy Bush’s casual conversation about sexual harassment, originally recorded by Access Hollywood. Trump’s subsequent denial of any history of sexual misconduct led to many more women finding the courage to come forward with their accusations. Investigative journalists help expose corruption and hold powerful people accountable.
If you can choose to ignore negative news, you likely aren’t affected by the problems being reported on. So whose plight are you ignoring? Ignorance may be bliss for an individual, but that willful ignorance will only hurt those suffering. If we have a choice of how to react to the news, then we have to make the correct one. If we have privilege, we need to use it to help enact change.
Negative news can help generate the positive change that we need. The purpose of the journalism industry is to report on the events of the world, whether the news is good or bad. Journalism always has room to improve, but it shouldn’t be pushed aside because the events are disheartening. We can’t ignore information because it makes us uncomfortable. We have a right and a duty to be informed accurately in a timely manner so that we can respond collectively and tackle these issues. The information we receive may not always be positive, but it will always be important.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
Email Alexandra Chan at [email protected]