Stress, ignorance, bad health result of US media’s insistence on negative news

Cedric Tchommo, Staff Writer

“College students mauled by grizzly bear.” “Influencer reportedly killed in hail of bullets at home.” “U.S. diplomat’s wife pleads guilty over fatal car crash that killed British teen.” These were some of the headlines on the front pages of CNN, MSNBC and FOX News on Oct. 20.

For years now, American media has insisted on relentlessly reporting negative news which is pessimistic and grim, with a particular focus on deaths or tragedies. This has been especially prevalent in the last few years because of the coronavirus pandemic, when the whole world was in chaos. Now, it finally seems as though the American people are turning their attention away from the negative slant of news media, realizing that negative news does more harm than good.

According to research by Dartmouth professor Bruce Sacerdote, in 2021, 87% of national coronavirus coverage from hundreds of news companies was negative. Although the pandemic was a very dire time for the world—I even started to sleep with my mask on—it may have caused a lot of stress and paranoia to people due to the constant reporting on the negative parts of it, according to a study by BioMed Central. Sacerdote’s research showed that even when cases were falling, news media continued to focus on the places where the pandemic was still in full effect, rather than in the places that showed improvement.

People should set negative news aside in favor of positive news because of the number of health benefits it gives. According to a study by Science Daily, reading feel-good news makes us happier, which can help reduce stress and blood-pressure. A different study by researchers at Harvard University showed that optimism and happiness decreases the chances of getting heart diseases by 35%.

But people are more attracted to negative news and continue to read and watch bleak news on a regular basis. I myself am usually glued to the TV whenever some tragic event is being reported, as are many other Americans. A study by the McGill University of Canada displayed that even though people may claim they prefer positive news, they still subconsciously choose to read the negatives more. We are naturally attracted to the terrible parts of the news, and big media companies like CNN, MSNBC and FOX News take advantage of that. 

However, people are showing signs of being exhausted with these trends though. A 2022 third quarter cable news rating from Forbes showed that three of the major broadcasting networks, FOX News, CNN and MSNBC, have had viewership drops in their Prime Time audiences. A Reuters Institute study from June 15, 2022, showed that 42% often avoid the news and 15% do not watch it at all. 

This is during a year of eventful occurrences, like the Ukraine-Russia war and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and yet, viewership still continues to drop. The U.S. population is clearly exhausted, and if Americans are cutting themselves off from the news, they become less informed, which could be detrimental for our society. 

People need news, and being forced to cut themselves off from it because of the negativity is bad for both the media and the people. A good balance of regular as well as positive news  is needed for this country to have knowledgeable citizens and a prosperous democracy.