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When news makes you feel negative

There are enough reasons to hate the media. Some of us have pursued ratings and readership at the cost of everything else

There are plenty of instances of the media spreading fake news. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
There are plenty of instances of the media spreading fake news. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

These days I take it personally when you say to me that you’ve stopped tracking the news. “I don’t want to read about all the bad things that are happening around me," a friend said recently.

You proudly announce on Facebook and Twitter that you’ve been television-free for a few years now or that you no longer read the newspapers because there’s “so much negativity". You’re discovering yoga, chugging cold-pressed juice and watching Anushka Sharma’s Pixel 2 commercial (48 million views only) to detox from the horrible things you are forced to hear and read every day. Some of you are even compiling your own volumes of good news for social media followers. I get it.

Authoritarian leaders are taking over the world and using hate as a tool to unite citizens against the feared “other"—who may be immigrant, Muslim, African American, liberal or long-dead Mughal—and all you want to do is to hide your head in a hole to block out these bad folk. Don’t forget to carry earpods so you can die listening to a bite-sized sermon by Jaggi Vasudev or the ninth version of Despacito when the world goes to hell.

Just last fortnight, Nicolás Maduro, who has led Venezuela’s social and economic collapse, was elected the country’s president. He won a landslide victory because he banned popular opposition leaders from contesting the election and because people were too scared to vote for anyone else.

But my news is not getting through to you. You plan to surface only after Kalki, astride a white stallion, huffs, puffs and blows away the bad vibes, ushering in a new age where all newspapers read like The Better India, whose tag line “Positive News. Happy Stories. Unsung Heroes" sums up their brand of journalism.

The idea of good news as a business opportunity has resulted in the proliferation of online platforms such as Happy News, Optimist World and Good News Network. Even mainstream news websites such as Huffington Post, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and The Times Of India have good news sections.

What I’m about to tell you won’t fit your brand of good news, though I see it as a step in the right direction. Just like the brutal gangrape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern in Delhi in 2012 put rape on the front pages of Indian newspapers, the rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua earlier this year has resulted in the media giving more space to the horror stories of child rape that play out in our country every day. One in every two Indian children is abused—we’ve known this for more than a decade—and the horrific incident in Jammu has made us re-examine this horrible truth about ourselves. But oops, I see you’ve tuned me out. I’m competing with a WhatsApp video you just received and I know I can’t match the spectacular acrobatics of Vietnam’s Giang brothers on Britain’s Got Talent. Child rape and its increased visibility in your morning newspaper is exactly the kind of depressing start to your day that you are hoping to avoid.

There are enough reasons to hate the media. Some of us have pursued ratings and readership at the cost of everything else. We survive on advertising and have been known to sell ourselves to the highest bidder. There are plenty of instances of the media spreading fake news. Some of us yell to communicate, some don’t give you adequate warning before showing you the most gruesome pictures, and others reveal the names of juvenile rape survivors. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell the difference between a news story and a press release.

Even a veteran journalist like P. Sainath believes that his profession doesn’t care about a large chunk of the population. “When you don’t have an agriculture or a labour correspondent, you are basically saying that 75% of the population does not matter. The rate of unemployment in India is high…. Forty million people do not have jobs today and the story needs to be told," he said last year at a seminar.

In an American Psychological Association study last year, people said they felt conflicted between the desire to stay informed and the media as a source of stress. Fifty-six per cent of respondents said the news gives them stress; 72% believed the media blows things out of proportion.

As someone who has worked in this industry for more than two decades, I have a few ideas on how you can consume news more effectively.

Does the newspaper give you stress or is your tension a result of the headlines, memes and forwards you consume as news on your various social media networks? Is news responsible for your heartburn or is it the fake news industry that’s the cause of your pain?

When was the last time you scanned a newspaper from cover to cover? No matter how many smart people you follow on Twitter and how many brilliant long-form essays you access on the microblogging site, you’ll never be able to recreate the magic of a real news organization where reporters across the country work together to bring you news (both good and bad), views, sports, business, comics and the crossword all in one place. Pick a couple of websites, newspapers or television channels you don’t mind, and stay faithful to them. Identify reporters and columnists whom you’ve come to believe—or at least grudgingly like—and track their work. If, like Sainath, you think news about real India is not reflected in mainstream news media, follow a news start-up that makes an effort to track all the different Indias.

If you can, watch the video of the Indian man in Rajkot who was beaten to death in your country a couple of weeks ago. Whatever you do, come out of that cosy burrow please.

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.

She tweets at @priyaramani

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