Good-News Sites Defy Media Gloom
by Mick O'Leary
It seems that today, there are two types of people in the world: people who stop to stare at a horrific crash site and the people who are in the crash. And also today, across all media, there are two types of news: fears of disasters and the disasters themselves. The glass isn’t just half-empty; the whole bottom is broken.
But maybe we just need to get out more often. Recently, while aimlessly web surfing, I came across an eye-catching graphic about the efficiency of different types of energy. It shows that wind is by far the most efficient, followed closely by other green technologies; the least efficient energy sources are fossil fuels. The graphic was a brightly colored bubble chart that clearly presented the data, and even better, it was good news!
The graphic is published by Beautiful News Daily, which is not a news site in the conventional sense. It’s a large collection of graphics that depict all sorts of good news—the efficiency of green energy along with similar positive trends in science, technology, governance, and society. And for even more good news, Beautiful News Daily isn’t the only good-news site.
BEAUTIFUL NEWS DAILY
Beautiful News Daily is a project of Information is Beautiful, a data visualization producer and consultancy. The company was founded in 2008 by David McCandless, an author, speaker, and visualization software developer.
Beautiful News Daily’s tagline is “unseen trends, uplifting stats, creative solutions.” It has several hundred graphics, with a new one added daily. Some, like the energy efficiency graphic, distill datasets into easily comprehensible visualizations. Others report on watershed good-news events, such as the fact that female and male literacy rates are now almost equal. Many address progress on once seemingly intractable problems, such as world hunger, which, the site shares, has reached its lowest point in 25 years.
Beautiful News Daily covers trends and events worldwide, often looking at innovations occurring from grassroots levels. The data are drawn from a large group of credible sources, including authoritative newspapers, journals, government agencies, research organizations, and nongovernmental organizations. The graphics are based on data reported over the past few years and many sources from 2020.
Beautiful News Daily’s graphics are uniformly colorful, with sharp contrasts to highlight an information-rich bubble, graph, or bit of text. They skillfully present complex data in concise visual presentations, such as a single graphic that shows four types of transgender rights that occur in 106 countries. Each graphic includes a short annotation and a link to the source. Many have the data in spreadsheet form. They can be downloaded, have embed codes, and are covered by a Creative Commons license.
The Upside is a project of the British newspaper The Guardian, which covers world news (with lots of U.K. and U.S. stories) from a progressive point of view, and at times, with an edgy tone. The Upside shares all of these qualities—except for the tone. The Upside is relentlessly optimistic, publishing a host of good-news stories. Its tagline is “Journalism that seeks out answers, solutions, movements and initiatives to address the biggest problems besetting the world.” The Upside debuted in 2018 and has published several hundred stories. It’s updated several times weekly.
The Upside’s upbeat stories are classified in five categories: Environment, Health, Technology, Enterprise, and Communities. Many stories report on promising and creative initiatives that are emerging regionally and locally. (The entrepreneurial nature of the good-news genre is a recurrent theme.) As befits a highly regarded journalistic enterprise, The Upside’s stories are thorough, insightful, and full of links to other relevant reporting.
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
Fans of avant-garde music know David Byrne as the front man and creative force for the new-wave band Talking Heads. Byrne, a creative polymath, has been successful as a musician, composer, producer, and actor. He has ventured into journalism with Reasons to be Cheerful, which celebrates good-news initiatives around the world.
Reasons to be Cheerful is the first project of the Arbutus Foundation, established by Byrne in 2018. Reasons to be Cheerful’s cheeky tagline is “A self help magazine for people who hate self help magazines.” Its articles are written by a small group of staffers and a far-flung network of freelancers. Byrne himself is an active participant in the first group, as the author of numerous articles and an editorial leader. The content dates to mid-2019, with several new articles added weekly. Stories are well-written in an upbeat but professional journalistic style.
Like Beautiful News Daily and The Upside, Reasons to be Cheerful searches across the world for optimistic, progress-oriented initiatives in technology, the environment, communities, and culture. It gives particular attention to local homegrown projects carried out by “regular” folks. Reasons to be Cheerful is ingenious in seeking these out, showcasing, for example, a program in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to protect farm workers from COVID-19, the e-bike movement in European cities, a Tasmanian project to revive its kelp forests, and the health improvements resulting from Mexico’s tax on sugary drinks. Reasons to be Cheerful’s culture stories have covered the value of prison art programs; the thriving art scene in Kochi, India; and Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project, which helps new mothers in this most soothing of musical forms.
GOOD NEWS OF ALL KINDS
Beautiful News Daily, The Upside, and Reasons to be Cheerful are just three of a few dozen good-news sites that I encountered in my scan of the internet. There are, it turns out, different categories of these sites. Some concentrate on a particular subject, such as Project Drawdown, which covers climate solutions. Several are concerned with a particular area, including sites for Ireland, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and others. Many cover small, single-event human interest stories, such as individual acts of kindness or charity. Some are very small projects with little content.
Beautiful News Daily, The Upside, and Reasons to be Cheerful stand out for covering a comprehensive range of topics, for picking stories of widespread significance, for worldwide reporting, and for solid research and writing. Beautiful News Daily, of course, “reports” using single-image graphics instead of text documents, but the source data in the graphics are both significant and authoritative, and a highly informative graphic has legitimate communication qualities that even the best written text does not.
The dominant news media, with its dour, “glass nearly empty” tone, may swamp the positive stories coming from the good-news media and its tiny readerships. But a promising green-shoot initiative reported in Beautiful News Daily, The Upside, or Reasons to be Cheerful may become a benevolent status quo in times ahead.