Why we need good news

There’s plenty of bad things happening in the world and it seems like we’re often lurching from one tragedy to the next, or trying to take in simultaneous horrors all over the world.

It can feel like journalism and news media revels in communicating the most depressing details of every tragedy. Whether this is driven by a need to fill airtime on 24-hour news channels with live coverage of unfolding events, a rush for ratings or awards, or to fulfil our psychological need for bad news, it’s no exaggeration to say that negative journalism is having an impact on society.

Negative journalism perpetuates stereotypes of individuals, groups and entire communities, whether its harming the job prospects of young people, demonising people on benefits or contributing to anti-immigrant political rhetoric. News journalism has been used by politicians to “bury bad news” among even worse news and by police to insinuate complicity in tragedies.

Bad news is also bad for our health. Studies show that exposure to a typical news story results in a drop in mood in most people – up to 38% in women and 20% in men.

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Inspiring talks about happiness

Flow, the secret to happiness

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has contributed pioneering work to our understanding of happiness, creativity, human fulfillment and the notion of “flow” — a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work. Full biography on TED

The hidden power of smiling

Ron Gutman reviews a raft of studies about smiling, and reveals some surprising results. Did you know your smile can be a predictor of how long you’ll live — and that a simple smile has a measurable effect on your overall well-being? Prepare to flex a few facial muscles as you learn more about this evolutionarily contagious behaviour.

The surprising science of happiness

Dan Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness,” challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.

photo credit: Rodrigo Sá Barreto via photopin cc

The understated genius of Aaron Swartz

Before this weekend, I’d never heard of hacker, programmer, writer and activist Aaron Swartz, but his work changed the way I use the Internet.

At the age of 14 he co-wrote the Really Simple Syndication (RSS) standard, the news publishing protocol which allowed information to be shared and consumed across websites and newsreader software, fundamentally changing the way people access information. It powers so many websites I’ve worked on over the years.

By the age of 19, Aaron had revolutionised the news again. He become co-owner of Reddit – a social news website that has changed the way many people find the best online content, can make a website famous and has been known to crash web servers under the sheer volume of traffic it can send to a website. This has been called The Reddit Effect.

As well as having a brilliant, curious mind, Aaron Swartz believed that the Web should be a force for good and wanted to make information available to all. As technology policy reporter Timothy Lee pointed out in the Washington Post. “Internet freedom and public access to information were two recurring themes in his life and work.” He set up Open Library, with a goal of putting one page online for every book ever published

He developed the architecture for the Creative Commons licensing system, which allows me to attach his photo, taken at a Wiki meetup in Boston in 2009 and uploaded to Flickr by rageoss, so other people can freely use and share those photos.

Aaron was also an activist, campaigning for internet freedom. He founded Demand Progress, which was instrumental in campaigns to keep the internet open and free, and helped defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act last year.

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