Let the Good News Roll

Signals from the press on both sides of the Atlantic do not necessarily mean a journalistic groundswell. But trends have to start somewhere. When the starters are The Times of London and U.S. News & World Report, we lend an ear.

"We cannot handle good news," writes Simon Jenkins in The Times. "I believe this inability is becoming as morally debilitating as the readiness to absorb bad news." He notes the pessimism of surveyed Britons in the face of social and economic improvement and "a world more at peace than ever before in living memory."

"The widespread assumption that journalism's function is primarily to root out problems has left the press unfit for another important part of its job...," writes U.S. News & World Report's new editor, James Fallows.

"The average journalist, normally so directed and morally self-confident, shrinks instinctively from considering 'solutions.'"

The press rightly exposes problems, but it rarely reports and studies solutions as thoroughly, says Mr. Fallows. To try to restore some balance, his magazine began 1997 with a double issue promising "20 Ways to Save the World." One way: Separate CIA functions into an entity for clandestine services and an independent agency, modeled on the Federal Reserve Board, for intelligence policy and analysis.

Other solutions range from feeding the third world to making cigarettes less toxic. Anyone might venture a different "20 ways."

But, like the piece in The Times, the U.S. News initiative points in the useful journalistic direction of recognizing "news" in good happenings, and in solutions as well as problems.

To be fair, journalism on both sides of the Atlantic - even the full-color TV variety - has included admirable departures from the bad news syndrome. This newspaper was founded in 1908 as a constructive alternative to the "yellow journalism" of that day, and ever since then it has sought to represent the proper proportion of good in the human scene.

If we ever boasted, we might say we were into problem-solving journalism before it became fashionable. It's good news to see distinguished colleagues start the new year with words like those of Mr. Fallows:

"[The view] of the modern age as a blighted period in which negative appraisals are the only honest ones is wrong.... Understanding when and why public efforts succeed should be as important as reporting how they fail."

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