The first step in correcting a problem is learning that a problem exists. That’s why a basic role of journalism is to expose and explain the challenges that face humanity.
But sometimes the unending litany of problems can blind us to the bigger picture, one that often shows long-term trend lines heading in a much more positive direction. Journalists need to tell these stories, too – including why the good news is happening and how it might be reinforced or replicated elsewhere.
Terrorism, violence, refugees, income inequality, racial inharmony, etc., – make your own list – present huge and troubling challenges. But it’s refreshing to see how some journalists and scholars have decided to open 2016 by reminding readers of the progress going on, news often given little mention compared with headlines that announce the latest tragedy.
Examples from 2015 could include:
•Africa’s Ebola epidemic, which at one time appeared to be alarming and out of control, was defeated. The disease is close to being completely wiped out. (Have you noticed that good news in headlines lately?)
•Despite some reports of new dangers to US police officers, 2015 was one of the safest years for law enforcement personnel ever recorded, according to data collected by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Overall, 124 officers were killed in the line of duty in 2015, but that was down 14 percent from 2014. The largest cause – more than one third of the deaths – was not shootings but traffic accidents.
•Violent crime in the United States was down again from the previous year, continuing a long-term trend. Some 600,000 fewer violent crimes occurred in 2015 than 20 years ago, a 35 percent decline.
•Terrorists represented only a modest danger. In the US the problem is exceedingly small. “Heart-rending violence in the Middle East has no serious implication for American security,” writes Stephen Kinzer, a journalist and visiting scholar at Brown University. For Americans, he says, “You have more chance of being struck by lightning on your birthday than of dying in a terror attack.” The US is “not only safe,” he concludes, “but safer than any big power has been in all of modern history.”
More good news: A massive influx of refugees into Europe has been met with numerous acts of kindness, including a pledge by countries such as Germany and Canada to accept thousands of them, lifting up a model for other nations.
Myanmar (Burma), long under oppressive military rule, finally held elections. Saudi Arabia finally allowed women to vote and run for office.
An agreement to cut global greenhouse gas emissions was reached in Paris, a feat many thought impossible. While it doesn’t provide a complete solution, it shifts momentum significantly in the right direction.
Female literacy around the world, an important step to moving societies out of poverty, reached an all-time high, at more than 90 percent.
The tiny Pacific island nation of Palau designated a new marine reserve in its territorial waters. About the size of California, it is one of the five largest in the world, hosting more than 2,000 species of fish and corals.
In sum, worldwide 2015 will go down as “the best year in history for the average human being to be alive,” and “2016 will almost certainly be even better,” predicts Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank.
All this progress didn’t come without effort. Much of the progress was a result of deep compassion that led people around the world to undertake persistent and vigorous work that made things better.
And one thing journalists owe their audiences is to tell these legitimately hopeful stories, and explain why and how they happen.