Ever turn on the 6 o’clock news, been deluged by homicides, fires and tsunamis--and shut it off? Being bombarded by unrelenting bad news is too much for some people to take.
In 1997, Geri Weis-Corbley, a freelance TV producer based in Manassas, VA, decided to do something about the avalanche (no pun intended) of grim news that overwhelms us nightly. She launched the Good News Network (www.goodnewsnetwork.org) to balance out the crimes, wars, and homicides with some reassuring updates. Fifteen years later, and Good News Network is going strong.
Good News Network isn’t oblivious to tragedy. It just emphasizes the good news. Weis-Corbley pointed out that the Center for Media and Public Affairs noted that homicides in the 1990s declined by 42%, but network coverage of murders rose by 700%.
When Weis-Corbley was starting out as a freelance camera and audio operator and was covering several congressional scandals, she said to a fellow camera man, “Why don’t we show the good things being done?” Her cynical cohort replied, “Good news doesn’t sell.” Years later, that statement goaded her to launch the site.
After she left the business to raise a family, she was home with her son and listening to an National Public Radio (NPR) story about excruciating rapes taking place in Bosnia. She wondered what effect these negative, gloomy stories would have on her son. The web was just emerging and in 1997 she researched web design, chose a simple format, didn’t raise any money, and launched Good News Network out of her house. It’s still a one-woman, home-based, do it yourself operation.
When she launched the site, she also thought that newspapers report good news but it’s scattered throughout the paper. She wanted to consolidate the good news into one place.
She wasn’t able to secure goodnewsnetwork.com so settled for an org ending. Despite that ending, it’s a profit-making venture. It offers a limited number of news updates for free under its “popular” heading but reading extended articles requires a subscription. Weis-Corbley says that four to six free news articles are posted daily but subscribers who pay $24 a year or $2 per month receive unlimited access to articles.
For years, the site attracted some ads but not enough to turn a profit. Her family helped finance it. In 2008, she polled her readers to ask if they would pay to be on the site. About 70% said they would, and she now has 20,000 subscribers. Weis-Corbley, who serves as editor and publisher, says it doesn’t target a specific audience, just anyone who wants to hear good news.
The site is organized into a series of news topics including: Business, Civics, Earth, Health, Recreation (Sports, Celebrities, and Reviews), Inspired (Individuals, Religions, Opinions), and Family Life (Great kids and Pets).
The articles run the gamut. For example, one uplifting news article profiled three Maryland schoolteachers who won a $756 million lottery and opted to continue teaching because they loved it and were committed to their students. Another story detailed how Claire Squires, a 30-year-old hairdresser, collapsed and died while running her second London Marathon. In her honor, friends established a web site and nonprofit in her name that has raised over a million dollars for charity.
Other articles have a newsier angle and don’t just focus on feel-good profiles. One science article detailed how a robot can send signals to a partially paralyzed person’s brain to activate their muscles. In an age when many animals are becoming extinct due to global warming, a science story detailed how 36 new species of frogs were discovered in a Madagascar forest.
Who can resist the story of Ciara Citraro, a 17-year-old high school senior, who attended school 2,000 consecutive days and never missed a day of school since kindergarten? Or the Russian billionaire Elena Baturina who donated $100 million to launch Be Open, a think tank devoted to solving the world’s problems.
But the articles that prove the most popular are the how-to and self-help stories. Articles such as “7 Ways to be Happy Now” or “7 Super Healthy Foods” engender the most readership.
The site offers the lead of most articles and then links to the newspaper’s site or AP story, Weis-Corbley said, so she doesn’t break any copyright laws. Most publication’s web sites like to have their stories linked because it builds traffic and enables them to attract more readers and charge more for their ads. She also interviews people, rewrites press releases, and runs a one-woman news office.
Weis-Corbley thinks that reading positive news has salutary effect on a reader’s brain. It engenders optimism and reduces anxiety in its readers.
Ironically, Weis-Corbley wonders, “If there are so many fires, homicides, and rapes, what exactly makes them newsworthy? How exactly is a reader to respond to the news of a train wreck in India that killed 80 people?”
Asked what criteria she uses to determine what is good news, Weis-Corbley’s take is decidedly subjective and not standardized. First, she says stories about helping the environment fit the criteria, or statistics about poverty or teen pregnancy dipping, but it wasn’t exactly clear what criteria she used. She says many stories about people bouncing back from tragedies can be considered good news.
Weis-Corbley relates something Thomas Jefferson said. He commented that journalism’s goal is to depict the reality of the world. You can’t achieve that from only reading disastrous news and tragedies--you need to read the good news for balance.
After 15 years, her web site proves that her colleague the cameraman was wrong. Good news sells.
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.