COVID News Need to Change : Canadians’ Well-Being Depends on It

In the last eight months, every Canadian has been affected, directly or indirectly, by the spread of COVID-19. The extent of the virus’ impact on human lives has made it a prominent topic of discussion in many facets of our lives. No matter the activity, location or time of day, there is no escaping mentions of the pandemic.

The source of the information itself–the news media–is to blame for the heavy spread of negative talks. 

The virus and its consequences have been thoroughly reported by news organizations, as expected by their responsibility as an industry. But we’ve all known about this health crisis for months now, we are all experiencing its effects every day, and we are all too aware of its negative consequences. Knowing this, why is the news industry still choosing the most demoralizing angles and discouraging tones for every topic addressed? For instance, a quick Google search on the top COVID stories in Canada will promptly inform you of the spike in new cases. 

Why not shift the angle just a tad and inform the public on the number of recoveries instead?

Linked below are the top stories about COVID-19 news recorded on Oct. 30, 2020. 

These “negative” stories are important and do need to be told, but a positive news cycle is equally essential and is arguably what people need most right now. Many Canadians are currently experiencing tremendous difficulty maintaining good mental health. According to a recent poll conducted by the Mental Health Research Canada on 4010 Canadians across the country, levels of anxiety and depression within the population keep increasing due to the outbreak and restrictions. The poll also shows that the news plays a role in the deterioration of Canadians' mental health.

This last point has been more extensively explored by Humanities and Social Sciences Communications. In fact, they conducted a study on 141 208 headlines of global English news sources and found that 52 per cent of the headlines evoked negative sentiments in the public while 30 per cent evoked positive sentiments. Among the main emotions evoked by the news headlines, the study found that fear, sadness, and anger were predominant. 

Some might say that the negative news cycle is not solely to blame on the news industry as the topics tackled are, to some extent, a reflection of the public’s engagement. This is true, the vast majority of humans are in fact more drawn to negative news coverage than positive stories. This was demonstrated in a 2019 study conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on over 1000 respondents across 17 countries and six continents. Like any other business, the news industry is catering to the preferences and inclinations of their clientele. 

However, editors and journalists should be driving the focus of stories on the public’s interest, a core principle of journalism, instead of sensational stories that automatically get the public’s attention. In other words, they should be catering to the public’s needs rather than the public’s impulses, especially in these times. By failing to do so, news organizations thus hold a fair share of responsibility for the negative news flow and the deterioration of people’s mental health.

A possible way to fix this situation is more solution journalism in the news industry. Solution articles are more valuable because they complement the facts with in-depth responses and insights on a matter. They feed the public with hope rather than despair and are easier to digest. 

The Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin studied the effects of exposure to coronavirus news headlines and found that participants were more likely to engage with positive and solutions headlines. “Solutions journalism may be a way to provide relevant information while minimizing the potentially negative consequences of news consumption,” the authors of the study wrote. This goes to show that news organizations should focus a little more on solutions, for the public’s benefit as well as their own.

Now more than ever, the news media is essential to keep people informed and aware of what is happening in the world. But the overly negative angles and pessimistic headlines need to go, especially during these challenging times.