A dose of good news

In the din of despair, find time to look, listen for those quietly making a difference


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Among the most common refrain journalists hear from their audience, is that we need to tell more good news stories. That we spend too much time on the bad. That it’s too depressing to turn on the TV or open the paper and read about everything wrong with the world, without enough of a counterweight in what’s going right.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/01/2022 (423 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Among the most common refrain journalists hear from their audience, is that we need to tell more good news stories. That we spend too much time on the bad. That it’s too depressing to turn on the TV or open the paper and read about everything wrong with the world, without enough of a counterweight in what’s going right.

That longing, for more stories that bring joy, seems especially acute now, after nearly two years of the grinding public health entropy that has defined the pandemic. I get it: the crushing repetition of COVID-19 headlines exhausts me too. It’s a critical task to get it all documented, but there’s a sameness to it all that makes it progressively heavier to get through.

It’s not that journalists like bad news, exactly. It’s that the work of media is to document the events that shape our times, and news is, by nature, usually rooted in either conflict or tragedy. We can’t avoid it, nor should we: if you can’t point to the place that hurts, you won’t know where to start diagnosing the illness. You have to name what’s broken, to fix it.

Still, there’s no doubt that the sheer volume of bad news can be overwhelming and that, since much of it offers little obvious avenue for individual action, it can produce a sort of despair. How are we to cope when so much seems broken, but the fixes seem so far over our heads? Nobody likes feeling helpless, but that is an effect too much bad news can produce.

Worse, perhaps, is that it’s harder now to escape. A few decades ago, we got our news with the morning’s paper, and then maybe again at night when we turned on the TV, but the in-between was mostly time to digest what we’d seen. There’s no such reprieve, now. The bad news never stops flowing, drawn from the world over, gushing through our phones.

There’s even a word, for becoming lost in the gloom of flicking through bad news on social media: doomscrolling.

Still, even in the grey and the sadness of these pandemic winter weeks, we ought never lose sight of the brightness.

Every story I wrote this week was a good news story. In Tuesday’s paper, a piece about a little girl and her retired neighbour who became friends and built a giant ice castle; for Thursday’s sports section, a story about Jennifer Jones and her team, on keeping positive as they chase a second Olympic dream; today, a visit to Ma Mawi’s urban Indigenous vaccination centre.

The latter story is worth reflecting on a little further. The city’s two urban Indigenous vaccination clinics have been running since April, and they’ve peppered the news a fair bit in that time. But there has been relatively little in-depth exploration of the ways that they work, the broad range of supports they offer and, most of all, the people who keep them running.

It’s that last point — the people — that is most important. When I think of what good news stories seem to resonate the most with readers, it always comes down to people. Humans are reliably curious about each other. We want to meet people, to see a glimpse of the world through other eyes, to get to know the real lives that make our communities function.

A story about Ma Mawi’s urban Indigenous vaccine centre could just be a story about the number of doses it’s handed out, but if you have the time and space to meet the people, it spreads out into something bigger. It becomes a story about a crew of dedicated, caring people, working in service of their community. It becomes, in other words, very good news.

There are no shortage of stories like these in Manitoba. The province is full of them. The reason we don’t hear them more often is mostly that so much of this good news falls under the umbrella of everyday life. It’s not splashy. It doesn’t demand attention. It’s very visible to the people most directly affected, but less so to those outside its immediate sphere.

Still, that’s a problem, in terms of how the media we consume shapes our perceptions of our own world. When you are able to go behind the scenes at a place such as Ma Mawi, when you can see that work and those people, you know the North End as a place that is overflowing with good news, brimming with it, nurturing talents that breathe life into the whole city.

If you don’t see it, if you only see the bad, you might have a very different picture. But then you aren’t seeing the truth.

Here’s the simplest way to say it: bad news is loud. Good news is quiet. It’s a long day working at a vaccine clinic. It’s a warm coffee for someone who needs it. It’s someone deciding that even on a frigid night, they’ll walk with Mama Bear Clan, to help connect with and support people who have had a difficult path, but are doing their best to survive.

It’s a support group at a neighbourhood resource centre, to help people who have endured trauma learn healthy ways to cope with their pain. It’s a Facebook group where families who don’t have enough to eat can ask for help, and strangers make sure they get it. It’s a kid who shovels their elderly neighbour’s driveway. It’s life, and caring, and just getting by.

Good news is intimate, and dedicated. It doesn’t usually get press releases. It’s a healing, a friendship, a tender moment. Mostly, it’s just a whole lot of work, done by thousands of people who, for the most part, don’t end up in the paper, don’t think of their daily efforts as anything too unusual, and just keep showing up to make the world a little bit better.

But in a way, that’s the good news about good news: we won’t always see it, but it’s all around us.

In the meantime, if you know a good news story that should be told, reach out and tell us. The most joyful stories are often ones that can seem very small on the surface: maybe it’s nothing bigger than a little girl who befriended her neighbour. But those are some of life’s most beautiful moments, and it’s how we can know that in every dark day, there is brightness.


Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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