It’s become a cliché – a truth, but a cliché nonetheless – that the news is full of violence, negativity and fear mongering.
I don’t need to give a litany of examples to get you to nod your head in recognition here. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you can come up with your own list.
If you’ve read my column much in the past, you’ve probably noticed I write a lot about perspective. The lens through which we tell a story – whether it’s our own or that of another person – determines not just how we feel about it, but the very reality to which we’re responding.
This is to say, all experience is subjective.
For this reason, I’ve never believed that journalists could be completely objective. Even in determining which facts to include and which to exclude, a reporter is shaping the reality presented to readers.
The overall picture of the world is constructed by the cumulative narrative we hear: a combination of news media, anecdotes from friends and family and so forth. Therefore, the narrative we use matters – it has a real impact on our lives.
Now take this story: NPR reported on an Alabama woman who was caught shoplifting. Her family was starving, so she stole a five eggs to hold them over till the next check came in the mail.
A cop caught her, but instead of taking her to jail, he bought her a dozen eggs.
As a part of the cumulative narrative – I’ll call it the “inter-story” narrative – this is a story about seeing the good in the world (because it’s there, if we’re willing to look for it).
Within the story – what you might call the “intra-story” narrative – we observe that the carefully selected facts included promote feelings of positivity and hope.
The officer’s empathy: he grew up poor. The details of the woman’s circumstances: she was poor and trying to feed her family. Even her quote when she accidentally crushed the stolen eggs in her pocket (“I’m not a good thief”) adds humanizing elements.
The story excluded anything that would cast a negative light of the events, such as (and I’m making this up) a quote from the woman saying that while she was glad for the kindness this time, she wasn’t sure what she would do tomorrow.
Take this for what you will, but pushing this kind of positive, hopeful narrative is a public service. We know there’s plenty of negativity in the world without reporters making it worse. It makes me happy to see stories like this, because they reflect the world we live in.