How journalism’s Continuous Negative News and hysteria is killing people

How journalism’s Continuous Negative News and hysteria is killing people

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In a scary news story about youth suicides:

America and its young people live in an age of near-constant bad news. OregonLive, like other news websites, is replete with headlines that stoke young people’s existential fears: stories highlighting climate change, mass shootings, political hate and the like.

Young people see them. And they’re scared.“I remember when I started in the field, it seemed like a lot of the concerns were just about my universe, my little world, and now it’s a lot more,” said Galen Cohen, a school-based therapist at Madison High in Northeast Portland. Now, he said, he sees students with questions like: “Is the world going to be here when I’m an adult? ….”

Source: In Oregon, academic pressures, existential fears help explain rising rates of suicide, mental health conditions – oregonlive.com

Non-stop messaging presents the world as getting worse (when is is mostly getting a lot better, on average) – for example, in this report:

“There’s this sense of impending doom from the generation before us,” Weyland said. The college debt crisis, underemployment and the inability to afford a mortgage or kids all loom, along with the resurgence of neo-Nazi groups and estimates that we have just 10 years to solve climate change before it’s too late.

There is never any attempt to place highly negative news into context. This negative news floods our media-scape, from the news media to social media. We are buried in negative news, much of which is misleading, exaggerated or wrong, and nearly always missing critical context. This occurs because there may be a natural tendency to pay more attention to negative news combined with online news tracking that counts clicks and leads editors to then produce more negative news.

We are literally scaring young people to death through our media propaganda messaging, even though, historically, we live in the best times in history with plummeting global poverty and illiteracy rates, reduced crime, improved health and surprisingly good lifestyles (on average) compared to our parents and grandparents generations. Over the last 50 years, global life expectancy has increased from 56 to 72; the infant death rate has declined by 72%; average income rose by 372% (after adjustment for inflation); food calories per person is up by 22%; and political freedom, has increased by 55% globally.

Since 1970 in the United States we’ve seen these improvements in our lives (and this is a mere subset):

Most news, and certainly that which sticks with us, is fear-based. It warps our mind’s ability to function, it warps our perspective of the world, and most of all, it creates severe anxiety – most of which is unwarranted.

Years ago, I noticed upon visiting several zoos, that visitors are immediately confronted with signs about threatened species or deforestation and habit destruction. Most of the visitors to these zoos are young elementary school children who are unaware of history or able to place these threats in context. Zoos are, in fact, working to justify their own existence among complaints that housing animals in zoos are wrong – hence, they tie their work to species protection and recovery and public education. But they appear to be oblivious to their role in scaring children to death (literal death as seen by the increasing youth suicide rate). In fact, there is seldom a single positive comment inside the zoo – such as how a species or habitat may now be recovering. Instead, its frightening negativity everywhere you go!

On the topic of racism, any racism is too much but many studies show progress in reducing racism. By one measure, 100 years ago 4% of the U.S. population was in the Ku Klux Klan; today, just 0.003% of the population are members. Neo Nazis are estimated to number between 400 and 2,500 or less than 0.001% of the population. Claims of a rising Neo Nazi movement are promoted by Russian media. The Center for Strategic and International Studies distinguishes between “far right terrorism” and “left wing terrorism” and notes a large percentage increase in small numbers (a longer trend of less than 5 incidents per year has risen up to 14 incidents and a high of 31 in 2017). The numbers of such twisted individuals are small but their impacts may appear larger due to their use of social media propaganda and attention given to them by media. The overall problem of racism remains (and on some measures is larger than we would expect today), but the overall trend has been one of improvement. The rise of Trump and statements he has made on immigration and race issues, combined with coverage of alt-right/Neo Nazis has given racists an outsized presence on the national stage. This has resulted for example, in Portland, where small alt-right groups attract opposition that out numbers them 10 to 1, producing street riots and more publicity than they should ever have.

Always recognize we are surrounded by strong influencers who are working to persuade us to adopt someone’s agenda by scaring us to death. This is not healthy. Some times, merely focusing on how we are fixing problems – rather than wallowing in emotional descriptions of problems (real, but often very narrowly focused problems) – can provide a far healthier perspective. Focus on solutions, not the problems. And avoid name calling – which only exacerbates situations and does not lead to solutions.

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