Opinion | Paul Olson: Breaking news — experts predict a very good year

“Adults say they’re expecting more stress in 2023, survey finds,” warned an NBC News headline a few weeks ago. I was planning on a happy new year, but this negative story has raised my anxiety a notch. Perhaps I am ignorant of the roadblocks ahead, but I can count on the media to make sure I have plenty to worry about. Even my hopeful plan for a better me in 2023 may be a perilous venture. Cautioned one well-meaning journalist, “Making a New Year’s resolution? Don’t go to war with yourself.”

The Collins English Dictionary word of the year for 2022 was “permacrisis,” defined as an extended period of insecurity and instability. Yikes! Media CEOs are probably giddy about this choice as it plays into their strategy of leading with fear and uncertainty in every story. And such a label for 2022 provides a tailwind of pessimism to carry us into 2023. But if you have a keen eye you can spot the inspirational and helpful news to get your year going in the right direction. For example “99 good news stories from 2022,” and “52 acts of kindness: how to spread joy in every week of 2023,” give me encouragement.

I enjoy the challenge of writing a newspaper column. The only drawback is that I am forced to scan the news each day looking for ideas or researching a topic. I end up reading plenty of stomach-churning stories which cannot be good for my mental health or the optimistic attitude I wish to maintain. There is more good news than bad in the world but the media knows that headlines which generate fear or outrage are where the profits come from.

A Harvard Business School Study in 2021 of Twitter posts by news agencies found that negativity was 15% more prevalent than positivity, and that negativity engaged more users. Another 2021 study reported in the Washington Post showed that negative headlines have more than a 60% higher click rate than positive ones. Why do we go for the bad news? Many psychologists point to a negativity bias in humans. We feel good about protecting ourselves from harm and negative stories sometimes warn us about threats. Parents in Washington state are going to court instead of monitoring their kid’s phone usage: “Tech giants sued for allegedly contributing to youth mental health crisis.”

To limit my screen time, I do not use Facebook or Twitter, so I find it surprising that social media is how many people stay informed. In 2020 Pew Research found that 53 percent of Americans get their news “often” or “sometimes” from social media. I hope these people will be skeptical of shared news and make use of sources like the Wall Street Journal, CBS News or The New York Times that have real reporters who dig for the facts and don’t just recycle old news or stories of dubious origin.

Much of the stress each of us feels is self inflicted. Our daily life of work and personal obligations can be challenging enough, but then we go looking for trouble in the news. Statista reports that the average American spent eight hours and 14 minutes with digital media in 2022. Much of that time involves looking at negative headlines designed to suck us into a story.

“Are we headed for a recession?” “Is democracy dying?” “Stocks could slump another 20%.” “10 things doctors often miss.” I just scroll to the comforting travel news.

The most troubling headlines are those that hit too close to home. “40 Grossly Uncool Things Boomers Still Think Are Cool.” Being a Boomer I resisted the temptation to click this headline knowing I would see myself in at least six of the 40 photos. Even the most neutral headline can result in wildly different reactions in different readers. If the Summit Daily reports, “18 inches of snow predicted tonight” it can make one local want to move back to Florida while another will vow to be on the first chair tomorrow.

I try to never forward news unless it is humorous. The highlight of my daily internet surfing is to end it with a laugh. The Borowitz Report always brightens my day and perhaps keeps me better informed than the serious news. A sample, “Herschel Walker claims election is rigged against person with fewer votes.” No site is more consistently funny than The Onion and they skewer everyone, especially self-promoting politicians. A recent Onion takedown, “Herschel Walker claims he’s honorary Confederate soldier.” The Onion launched pre-internet in 1988 around the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, Wisconsin. Free distribution was done solely with newspaper boxes, much like the Summit Daily News.

Some may wish there was more flashy news in the Summit Daily, but that is the beauty of a local paper. I would rather learn about a new business opening or plans for a high speed quad than the latest Prince Harry and Meghan gossip. Did any of us move to Summit County in search of scandal and drama? A recent Summit Daily headline, “Child care gets boost in funding,” gives us welcome, straightforward news, and it brightens the day for the hundreds of families on the waiting list for this vital service.

Bill Gates observed, “Headlines, in a way, are what mislead you because bad news is a headline, and gradual improvement is not.” We see that this is true when we ignore media sensationalism and focus on daily life. Everything in Summit County moves ahead toward betterment but at a snail’s pace. Yes we have big projects like a new daycare but construction may take a year or more. We watch our children inch forward during years in school, but then, wow, they are adults and smarter than us. For a happier new year, check the headlines a little less and spend more time noticing the positive changes in our community and the important people in your family and neighborhood.

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