Why is so much of the news we see bad news? Is it because the world is a place of sorrow and hardship? Is it because we have a morbid fascination with death and destruction?
“One of the reasons we pay attention to the bad news is we value things going right, so we pay attention when things go wrong,” said Cara Jones, a bad-news-reporter-turned-good-news guru.
While working as a TV news reporter in Boston, she accidentally informed a teenager that her mother had died.
It was a day like all the rest. During her 10 years in TV news, Jones had often told similar sad stories—a car accident, a casualty, a mourning family.
Jones approached the house of the woman who died in the crash. Her daughter came up to Jones, “What happened to my mom? I know something happened to her. My dad called and told me to wait here. I just read about a fatal accident online. Was it my mom?”
The presence of the news crew confirmed her fears without Jones saying anything. Jones couldn’t justify this anymore as “just doing my job.”
To finish her contract with the TV station, she found uplifting stories to cover.
The first story was that of Kai Leigh Harriott, who was struck by a stray bullet when she was 3 years old playing on her back porch. Harriott was paralyzed by the bullet, but grew into a vibrant and positive young girl.
About a year after Jones featured Harriott’s story, the girl appeared at the sentencing hearing of the man who shot her. She publicly forgave him and asked the judge to be lenient. “It was such a powerful thing to witness, such a young girl in such a bold act of forgiveness,” Jones said.
When her contract finished in Boston, Jones crossed the globe to rediscover herself.
She had built an identity in Boston as a TV news reporter. By going somewhere different, somewhere she wouldn’t feel compelled to uphold that identity, she could find what she really wanted. It was a time of transition in her personal life and in her professional life.
She reconnected with her ancestral roots in Chile. She volunteered at an orphanage in Bolivia, trekked through the Himalayas, walked 546 miles across northern Spain, and learned yoga in India.
At the end of her journey, she was ready to return to the United States and become a storyteller for good.
She moved to San Francisco and founded the organization Storytellers for Good, which produces videos of inspiring stories. She featured homeless men who got back on their feet one step at a time by training for the Chicago Marathon. She told the story of a girl in a small Indian village who dared to be a surfer, struggling against a strong cultural current.
She left news reporting almost 10 years ago now, and she’s been telling these stories ever since. Her videos often help nonprofit organizations tell their stories in the most engaging way, serving not only to inspire viewers, but also to give the organizations a boost.
“On a philosophical level, I think that whatever we focus on grows, and as we turn our attention to all the negativity in the world, it doesn’t help us move forward,” Jones said. Compelling, issue-oriented stories are a good alternative to bad news, she suggested. They can balance out the bad news and focus on solutions.
“I don’t believe we can live on good news alone,” she said. Bad things happen in the world, and the news must reflect this, especially concerning issues of public safety. But, Jones believes that the way bad news currently pervades the media and the way it is framed presents us with a false picture of the world.
As a storyteller, she sees her role as framing people’s stories to reinforce a positive approach. We all frame the stories of our own lives, she said.
Harriott didn’t frame her story as a victim whose life was ruined by a cruel aggressor. She framed her own story as that of a girl who could still enjoy much in life and help others.
Jones hopes her storytelling reinforces this kind of framing in the minds of her subjects. These stories have also impacted her personally.
“That’s the power and the gift of a storyteller,” she said. “You get to step into people’s lives, in their most intimate moments sometimes, and get to learn these powerful lessons.”
See more of Jones’ good news on her website: StorytellersForGood.com