GOOD NEWS DOESN’T HAVE TO BE HARD TO FIND

Long before Covid-19 was the only topic in the newscast, musician, actor and renaissance artist, David Byrne was already feeling burnt out on a news cycle that often prioritizes bad news over good. So he began collecting, not just happy stories but positive ones, that focused on solutions rather than pointing out the problem. Solutions journalism.

What started out as a hobby, in 2017 became an official non-profit editorial site called Reasons to be Cheerful.

Even though we are able to constantly consume ‘news’ in real time as its happening, co-editor Will Doig says that doesn’t necessarily make us better informed and can sometimes warp our perceptions of the world around us. Reasons to be Cheerful hopes to balance that intake by bringing some of the ‘crisis news’ to its practical, productive and even positive conclusion.

Aired on April 8, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> HI, I'M JENNA FLANNIGAN OF 'METROFOCUS', IT MAY BE HARD FOR A MEMBER BUT FOR MANY PEOPLE, MYSELF INCLUDED, THE NEWS CYCLE BECAME EMOTIONALLY TAXING, THAT WAS BEFORE THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC.

IT BLEEDS IT LEADS.

THAT'S A COMMONALITY IN NEWS ROOM AS CROSS THE COUNTRY WHERE LIGHTER STORIES ARE RELEGATED TO THE END OF THE NEWS CYCLE, MAKING IT EASIER TO GET LOST ON THE ONSLAUGHT OF BAD NEWS.

SO IN 2017 MUSICIAN, ACTOR, FILM MAKER AND WRITER, DAVID BYRNE, TALKING HEADS, DECIDED TO CREATE A GOOD NEWS HUB CALLED 'REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL' AND JOINING ME NOW TO TALK ABOUT THIS NON-PROFIT EDITORIAL PROJECT IS THE CO-EDITOR OF THE SITE, WILL, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

SO FIRST OFF, TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE ORIGIN STORY OF 'REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL' AND WHY IT WAS CREATED IN THE FIRST PLACE.

SURE, YES, AS YOU MENTIONED DAVID BYRNE, HE ACTUALLY KIND OF CREATED THE SITE HIMSELF A COUPLE YEARS AGO.

HE SORT OF MADE A SITE LIKE ANYBODY ELSE WOULD, PUT IT ON THE INTERNET AND STARTED WRITING ABOUT THINGS THAT MADE HIM FEEL BETTER THAT HE SAW IN THE NEWS.

HE DID THAT FOR ABOUT AOR AND AT SOME POINT DECIDED HE WANTED TO MAKE THIS WEBSITE MORE OF AN ONLINE MAGAZINE FOR THE GENERAL READER SO HE HIRED ME AND ANOTHER EDITOR CHRISTINE McLAREN AND BASICALLY TASKED US WITH RESIGNING THE SITE AND TURNING IT INTO A PUBLICATION.

WE HIRED A WEB DESIGNER.

WE DID A NEW DESIGN.

HIRED FREELANCE WRITERS.

WE PUT SOCIAL MEDIA UP AND WE TURNED IT INTO WHAT IT IS TODAY, WE RELAUNCHED THE SITE LAST AUGUST AND IT IS WHAT YOU SEE TODAY.

YEAH YOUR TIMING COULDN'T HAVE BEEN MORE PERFECT IN TERMS OF NEED FOR GOOD NEWS.

ONE THING I THOUGHT WAS INTERESTING, THERE'S A FOCUS ON SOMETHING YOU GUYS CALL SOLUTIONS JOURNALISM.

I WONDER IF YOU COULD TALK ABOUT WHAT THAT IS AND PERHAPS IN JUXTAPOSITION SO MANY OF US GET ALERTS ABOUT ON OUR PHONE CONSTANTLY.

YEAH, SOLUTIONS JOURNALISM IS SOMETHING YOU DON'T SEE A LOT OF AND I THINK IS OFTEN MISUNDERSTOOD.

BASICALLY WHAT SOLUTIONS JOURNALISM IS BEYOND TANGIBLE PROGRESS SO WE CAN LEARN ABOUT PROBLEM THAT'S ARE BEING SOLVED AND HOW THEY'RE BEING SOLVED SO THAT OTHERS CAN THEN PERHAPS LOOK AT THOSE SOLUTIONS AND PLY APPLY THEM ELSEWHERE.

REPLICATE THEM IN THEIR COMMUNITIES, THAT SORT OF THING.

I THINK OFTEN IT'S JUST KIND OF GOOD NEWS, THINGS THAT ARE HAPPENING THAT SHOULD MAKE YOU HAPPY AND THAT IS DEFINITELY SOMETHING WE STRUGGLE WITH A LITTLE BIT, BECAUSE YOU KNOW, OUR FOUNDER IS AN ARTIST.

OUR WEBSITE HAS A GOOFY NAME.

SO WE AT THE VERY BEGINNING MADE A COMMITMENT TO MAKE SURE ALL OF THE JOURNALISMS ARE ACTUAL SOLUTIONS IMPLEMENTED SHOWING MEASURABLE SUCCESS.

THAT'S WHAT WE'RE TRYING TO DO.

OF COURSE, AND ONE OF THE OTHER THINGS I JUST WANTED TO ASK ABOUT, BECAUSE I'VE GONE THROUGH AND READ SOME REALLY IN-DEPTH AS YOU WERE SAYING, WRITTEN STORIES, IS THAT PART OF WHAT I SEE, AT LEAST, WORKING IN MORE TRADITIONAL NEWS MEDIA IS THAT THERE'S A HEAVY, HEAVY FOCUS ON TRYING TO COMBAT MISINFORMATION AND IN SOME CASES SOME MIGHT SAY PROPAGANDA WITH AS MUCH POSITIVE FACTS, NOT POSITIVE FACT BECAUSE AS MANY CORRECT FACTS AS POSSIBLE SO IT CREATES A LITTLE BIT OF A TENSION THAT YOU DON'T NECESSARILY GET WHEN YOU ARE READING 'REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL'.

YEAH I MEAN, I THINK, IN A WAY ONE THING WE'RE TRYING TO DO IS FOSTER WHAT WE SEE AS A MORE ACCURATE PERCEPTION OF THE WORLD.

SO RIGHT NOW WE'RE LIVING IN A TIME WHERE PEOPLE ARE CONSUMING NEWS PRETTY MUCH ALL THE TIME.

ESPECIALLY IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS, BASICALLY YOU CAN'T STOP READING ABOUT EVERYTHING.

BUT IN A WAY I THINK OUR THEORY IS THAT THE MORE NEWS YOU CONSUME DOES NOT EQUAL THE MORE INFORMED THAT YOU ARE.

SOMETIMES CONSUMING CONSTANT AMOUNTS OF INFORMATION CAN ACTUALLY SORT OF WARP YOUR PERCEPTION OF WHAT'S GOING ON, ESPECIALLY IF THAT INFORMATION IS ALL ABOUT THE PROBLEMS AND ALL ABOUT, YOU KNOW, JUST THINGS FALLING APART, WHEN IN FACT THERE'S ACTUAL WILL YOU A LOT OF REALLY AMAZING SOLUTIONS DEVELOPING IN THE WORLD THAT PEOPLE DON'T HEAR ABOUT.

FOR INSTANCE, COUPLE WEEKS AGO WE RAN A STORY ABOUT HOW THE MEDIA RESPONDED TO THE EBOLA CRISIS A FEW YEARS AGO.

REALLY WHAT THEY FOCUSED ON WAS ALL THESE COUNTRIES, MOSTLY IN AFRICA, THAT WERE KIND OF BEING CONSUMED BY THIS CRISIS AND EVERYTHING WAS GOING WRONG WHEN IN FACT THERE WERE SEVERAL COUNTRIES IF AFRICA THAT HAD REALLY CONTAINED THE VIRUS, DEPARTMENT WITH THE PROBLEM CONSTRUCTIVELY AND FOUND SOLUTIONS IT TO IT, BUT THOSE WEREN'T CONSIDERED THE SEXY STORIES SO IF YOU READ THE NEWS ABOUT IT ALL YOU WOULD SEE IS EVERYTHING IS GOING WRONG IN FACT THAT WAS AN INACCURATE PERCEPTION.

OUR GOAL IS TO BALANCE OUT THAT PERCEPTION AND AMPLIFY THE SOLUTIONS SO PEOPLE COULD HAVE A MORE ACCURATE PICTURE OF THE WORLD.

I'M SPEAKING WITH THE CO-EDITOR OF THE NON-PROFIT EDITORIAL PROJECT THEIR WEBSITE YOU CAN FIND ONLINE.

I WANT TO PIVOT AND TALK ABOUT THE WAY THE SITE IS SET UP.

BECAUSE IT'S NOT JUST LIKE A HODGE PODGE OF STORIES THAT ARE CONSTRUCTIVE OR POSITIVE, ET CETERA, IT'S ACTUALLY BROKEN DOWN WITH SOME VERY CLEAR INTENTION.

I WAS WONDERING IF YOU COULD TELL ME ABOUT SOME OF THE CATEGORIES THESE STORIES ARE BROKE NEON -- BROKAW BROKEN INTO AND WHY THOSE CATEGORIES EXIST.

SURE, THOSE CATEGORIES EXISTED BEFORE I CAME AROUND, I THINK THE REASON HE DID THAT WAS BECAUSE IT DOES SEEM LIKE OUR SOCIETY IS IN A LOT OF WAYS KIND OF DIVIDED INTO THESE DIFFERENT PLACES WHERE THERE'S EDUCATION, THERE'S HEALTH, THERE'S URBAN AND TRANSPORTATION ISSUES, THERE'S CIVIC ENGAGEMENT, WHICH IS SORT OF LIKE JUSTICE ISSUES AND HOW PEOPLE GET INVOLVED IN THEIR COMMUNITIES.

SO WE'RE REALLY OPEN TO KIND OF STORIES ABOUT EVERY KIND OF TOPIC YOU COULD THINK OF.

IN THE END THERE'S EIGHT CATEGORIES IN THE END THAT ENCOMPASS PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING AND WE DO LOOK TO OUR READERS TO SEND US IDEAS.

I WOULDN'T SAY READERS END UP WRITING STORIES FOR US BECAUSE WE DO HAVE A STAFF OF FREELANCERS WHO WRITE FOR US, BUT AT THE SAME TIME WE GET TONS OF STORY IDEAS FROM PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITIES SAYING HEY THIS IS A SOLUTION I'VE SEEN AND WE'VE FREQUENTLY ENDED UP REPORTING ON THOSE SOLUTIONS.

WE'D LIKE TO SEE OURSELVES AS KIND OF A CONNECTOR BETWEEN DIFFERENT PEOPLE AND DIFFERENT ORGANIZATIONS SO THAT THEY CAN SHARE I'D IDEAS.

BECAUSE I REALLY THINK THAT ONE THE BENEFITS OF WHAT WE'RE DOING IS THAT THERE ARE SOLUTIONS OUT THERE BUT FREQUENTLY THEY DON'T END UP GETTING SORT OF REPLICATED OR SCALED BECAUSE THEY DON'T GET HEARD ABOUT.

WELL IT'S INTERESTING BECAUSE YOU DID TALK ABOUT HOW YOUR SITE HAD WRITTEN ABOUT THE EBOLA OUTBREAK AND YOU ALSO, I MEAN, YOU ARE STILL CURRENT AFFAIRS BECAUSE YOU HAVE ALSO WRITTEN ABOUT THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND I'M WONDERING HOW YOU ARE ABLE TO DO THAT AND STAY TRUE TO YOUR MISSION.

WELL IT'S INTERESTING.

SO THIS HAS BEEN AN INTERESTING TIME FOR US, RIGHT, BECAUSE A LOT OF THE TIMES IT SEEMS LIKE VERY LITTLE IS GOING RIGHT BUT AT THE SAME TIME I THINK THIS IS A MOMENT IN A WAY NEED TO BE MORE RELEVANT THAN EVER BECAUSE THERE'S A LOT OF SOLUTIONS OUT THERE.

WEEK AGO WE WROTE ABOUT HOW TAIWAN HANDLED THE EPIDEMIC AND IT WAS IN PART ABOUT, YOU KNOW, HOW THEY IDENTIFIED THE PROBLEM EARLY, THEY HAD SCREENED PEOPLE RIGHT AWAY, -- OVER THE COURSE OFFED MANY YEARS THEY HAD CREATED A DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM THAT IS VERY FOCUSED ON SOLUTIONS AND PRAGMATICISM AND DELIVERING RESULTS FOR THE PEOPLE.

RIGHT.

SO, LIKE, HERE IN THE U.S. WE TEND TO GET VERY SENTIMENTAL ABOUT DEMOCRACY AND WE THINK ABOUT THE HISTORY AND PAGEANTRY, AND THEY SAY DEMOCRACY IS NOT DELIVERING FOR THE PEOPLE THAN IT'S NOT WORKING, AND SO THEY HAVE KIND OF REALLY MADE THAT THE CORE OF THEIR VALUE SYSTEM THERE AND, YOU KNOW, WHEN THERE'S A VIRUS RAVAGEDING YOUR COUNTRY THAT COULD COME IN HANDY.

OF COURSE.

NOW WE'VE TALKED A LITTLE BIT ABOUT DAVID BYRNE AND HIS FOUNDING OF THIS NON-PROFIT WEBSITE AND OF COURSE HIS INVOLVEMENT IN IT BUT I JUST WANT TO SAY HE'S NOT JUST, LIKE, YOU KNOW, A KIND, OLD BEN FACTOR.

HE'S ACTIVELY INVOLVED.

I'VE READ SEVERAL PIECES HE HAS WRITTEN.

IT'S NOT JUST AN EDITORIAL PIECE.

SOMETIMES IT IS.

HE'S ACTUALLY WRITTEN NEW STORIES CORRECT.

OH, SURE.

DAVID FROM THE BEGINNING WAS VERY CLEAR HE DID NOT WANT THIS PROJECT TO BE ABOUT HIM.

HE IS THE FOUNDER AND HE STARTED IT AND HE HAS TURNED OVER THE DAY-TO-DAY EDITORIAL PROCESS TO CHRISTINA AND I.

BUT AT THE SAME TIME HE REMAINS DEEPLY INVOLVED AND HE WOULDN'T HAVE IT ANY OTHER WAY.

HE'S DOING EVERYTHING FROM WRITING STORIES, TO, YOU KNOW, HE COMES TO THE EDITORIAL MEETING EVERY WEEK WHERE WE COME UP WITH IDEAS AND TALK ABOUT WHAT WE CAN DO.

WE SOMETIMES JOKE HE IS OUR IN IN-HOUSE HEAD LINELINE WRITER BECAUSE HE WRITES BETTER HEADLINES THAN ANYBODY.

VERY HELPFUL.

MANY HEADLINES ON THE WEBSITE WERE WRITTEN BY DAVID.

SO HE'S BEEN VERY INVOLVED.

AT THE SAME TIME I THINK HE REALIZES HE IS NOT A JOURNALIST.

HE'S AN ARTIST AND A MUSICIAN SO HE HAS DEFERRED TO US MANY TIMES ON QUESTIONS OF JOURNALISTIC RIGOR, INTEGRITY, IDEAS, ALL THAT SORT OF THING.

BUT, YEAH, HE'S DEEPLY PART OF THE PROCESS.

NOW WE'RE COMING UP ON THE END OF OUR TIME BUT I DO WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT THE TYPES OF WRITER THAT'S YOU ARE LOOKING FOR.

I ASK THAT BECAUSE I READ THIS REALLY FASCINATING PIECE THAT WAS WRITTEN BY A FORMERLY INCARCERATED MAN WHO WAS TALKING ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF A LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION, VIS-A-VIS THE BAR PRISON INITIATIVE.

AND SO, HOW BROAD OF A NET ARE YOU CASTING WHEN YOU LOOK FOR PEOPLE TO TELL THESE NARRATIVES.

YEAH THAT WAS A GREAT STORY.

HE, SO THAT WAS AS A MENTIONED, THIS WAS A YOUNG MAN WHO WAS IN PRISON.

WHILE IN PRISON HE WENT THROUGH AN EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM AND ENDED UP GETTING HIS COLLEGE DEGREE AND WROTE AN ARTICLE ABOUT IT.

WE GENERALLY, I WOULDN'T SAY PERSONAL ESSAYS ARE WHAT WE DO.

MOST OF OUR STORIES ARE IMPORTED BUT MOST POWERFUL PIECES HAVE BEEN PERSONAL ESSAYS SO IF THERE'S SOMEBODY OUT THERE WITH A STORY TO TELL, ESPECIALLY IF IT'S A STORY ABOUT POSITIVE CHANGE OR HOW THEY SOLVED A PROBLEM THAT'S SOMETHING WE'RE ALWAYS INTERESTED IN AND WE HOPE THEY WOULD CONTACT US.

WELL, LISTEN, WILL DOY COEDITOR OF 'REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL' A GREAT NON-PROFIT WEBSITE, EDITORIAL PROJECT.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

QUICKLY WHERE CAN PEOPLE FIND YOU ONLINE?

REASONSTOBECHEERFUL.WORLD.

EXACTLY, SIMPLE GOOGLE.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING ME ON THE PROGRAM.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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