Imagine yourself turning on the television at news time and hearing the following report:
''More good news today.
''This is the 363rd day that violent crime has been held hostage in our city.
''Last night 9,999 of the 10,000 drivers in our city made it home safely. The other one is reported in good condition.
''We are happy to report that Susan Smith's stolen tricycle was returned to her. The little boy who was responsible said he was sorry and that he had learned a lesson.
''Good neighbor of the day award goes to Mrs. Amy Niceperson. She has been secretly visiting hundreds of shut-ins over the past three years. Her neighbor, Mrs. Tellgood, phoned to nominate her for the award.
''Well, that's the good news for tonight, friends, but remember to keep smiling; there'll be more good news tomorrow.''
While this news report undoubtedly sounds hopelessly Pollyannaish to our ears , is it any more ridiculous than the unrelenting negativity of the news we often do hear?
At one time Detroit was labeled ''murder city.'' During the two years I lived there I had a great deal of fun telling out-of-towners that I had never seen a murder in the city. Detroit stretches 25 miles wide, and believe me there are a lot of quiet streets and concerned neighbors.
Then what makes us so fascinated by the bad stories and so unaware of the good which is so overwhelmingly the usual? I got a clue one day when I was driving on one of those busy streets in Detroit.
Detroit is a city built for cars, and it shows. Traffic usually proceeds pretty smoothly. It is probably the most navigable city I have visited or lived in.
This particular day, however, there were a couple of drivers weaving in and out of traffic in what appeared to be a race. A trail of brake lights marked their path as other motorists had to respond to their unfortunately foolish actions.
Then I became aware of the 20 or so drivers within my immediate vicinity. They were all driving carefully and reasonably. Yet my attention had first been drawn to the two who were not driving properly. Who deserved the most notice?
The observation of this event brought me to the conclusion that one of the reasons we focus disproportionately on bad news is that it screams for our attention like a naughty child.
Another reason, closely related, is that we tend to perceive bad news as more valid than good news. Realistic reporting requires all the grisly details, in blood-red color. According to this view, we have on rose-colored glasses if we happen to stop and notice too much good. Is that something of the Puritan in our national character? I can't answer.
Whatever the reason, I have come to the conclusion that we need more responsible reporting. Certainly we don't want Robin Goodfellow reporting which sweeps bad conditions under the rug as if they don't exist. But we do need balanced reporting that doesn't immediately leap at what is bad in life, cruelly disregarding the beauty, caring, and striving for perfection that also characterize our society.
When we do begin to have this in better balance I believe we will also see an actual improvement in our quality of life as good behavior and not bad is seen to be normal.
Until then I'd like you to try an experiment with me. Listen to the news and turn it upside down. Think of all the people who didn't rob, shoot, hit and run, or hijack a plane. It's an interesting and informative exercise.