The coronavirus pandemic has driven interest in uplifting headlines way, way up. (Shaw Nielsen/The New York Times)
Although it can be hard to see past the daily deluge of devastating headlines, there is plenty of good news in the world right now — and a great deal of interest in reading it.
Instagram accounts dedicated to good news, such as @TanksGoodNews and @GoodNews_Movement, have seen follower counts skyrocket in recent weeks. At the end of March, actor John Krasinski introduced a “news network for good news” on YouTube; within a week, Some Good News had surpassed 1.5 million subscribers and 25 million views. Google searches for “good news” spiked a month ago and have only continued to rise.
“We’ve seen an unprecedented level of growth in the past four weeks,” said Lucia Knell, the director of brand partnerships at Upworthy, who noted that the company saw a 65% growth in followers on Instagram and 47% increase in on-site page views in March, compared to the previous month.
Upworthy was founded in 2012 with a commitment to positive storytelling. At the time, Facebook’s algorithm appeared to favor inspiring, clickbaity headlines; you may recall seeing them all over your feed. But in 2013, Upworthy and other good-news sites saw page views drop considerably after Facebook adjusted its algorithm.
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Major news organizations (including The New York Times) have created their own good-news properties over the years. Now, more than ever, readers are seeing a need for them.
“It’s just been an avalanche of people writing and saying how much they need these stories or they read a story and tears are just streaming down their face,” said Allison Klein, who runs the Inspired Life blog at The Washington Post. “People are constantly saying thank you for showing something that made them not feel terrible.”
Supply and Demand
David Beard, the executive editor for newsletters at National Geographic, said that the demand for good news right now is unlike anything he’s seen before. “People are looking for a reason to go on,” he said.
In response, National Geographic has created two good news-themed newsletters. One is focused on kids and families. The other is a coronavirus-free newsletter titled Your Weekly Escape. “I think of it as like a meditation app, but it’s journalism,” Beard said. Both newsletters “were a reaction to this onslaught of terrible news,” he said.
The Washington Post is also striving to meet demand. In addition to publishing stories regularly to Inspired Life, the company turned its weekly good-news newsletter, The Optimist (which Beard developed when he was on staff), into a biweekly send and created The Daily Break, which highlights one uplifting story per day.
Good news has been a boon for independent publishers, too. Lori Lakin Hutcherson, the founder and editor-in-chief of Good Black News, said that stories on her site have been spreading “like wildfire” recently.
“Just looking at shares and clicking through,” she said, “these are stories that have been about 12 times more popular than the standard.” Good Black News has always attracted a steady audience of black readers, Lakin Hutcherson said, but in the last two months she’s seen an influx of interest outside her usual demographic.
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Branden Harvey, the founder of Good Good Good, said that in seeking out these stories, readers aren’t necessarily looking for an escape from the news. “More than just wanting to be distracted from COVID, they want a genuine sense of hopefulness in the response to COVID,” he said.
“It’s not that people don’t want news about the coronavirus,” Lakin Hutcherson said. “They just want news about it that’s more positive or that are showing people come together and fight this and offering ways individuals can help.”
Uplifting Memes for COVID-19
Just as Facebook boosted good news in the early 2010s, Instagram has become a place for positive storytelling to proliferate. Good news has spread on popular meme accounts over the last several weeks, and several account administrators have begun trading positive stories in a group chat.
George Resch, a fixture in the Instagram meme world known online as @Tank.Sinatra, created a good news account in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey. He publishes across platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, but he said that Instagram is where the posts perform best. “I’m seeing more growth on my page than I’ve seen since the first year,” he said.
The team behind the World Record Egg recently introduced a good-news Instagram account called @Sunny_Side_News. The account ballooned to more than 162,000 followers in a week without any promotion.
The most popular good-news accounts are focused on delivering coronavirus-related stories with a positive, productive message.
Alissa Khan-Whelan, a founder of @Sunny_Side_News, said she thinks carefully about how to frame stories to mitigate stress on readers and encourage sharing.
“We tend not to use the negative language,” she said. “The other day I could have used the word ‘death’ in the headline. I thought, Do I want someone scrolling to see the word death? Instead I used ‘lives lost.’” But good-news publishers said that news that’s framed too positively can also end up alienating readers.
“There’s a line,” said Resch. “You can’t come across as preachy and sappy.”
Fact-Checking the Content
Often, the most widely shared good-news items are baseless. National Geographic, for its part, has been vigilant about correcting the record. A story sparked by a tweet about swans returning to the Venice canals racked up hundreds of thousands of retweets but quickly fell apart under scrutiny. And when footage of an orangutan washing her hands began to spread on social media, urging viewers to “be more like Sandra,” the writer Natasha Daly informed readers that the video was real but had nothing to do with public health measures; it was filmed in November 2019.
“For these stories to really have lasting power they have to be rigorous journalism,” said Klein, of The Washington Post. “We don’t just pull a cool video or tweet off the internet.”
Nontraditional media companies like @TanksGoodNews and @Sunny_Side_News also do their part to verify stories before publishing them to Instagram.
“It’s a massive responsibility to use your platform to share news, so we always want to be very strict with our sources and ensure we fact check everything,” said Khan-Whelan.
Kristi Carter, the founder and CEO of Global Positive News Network, said her website cites only reputable sources when aggregating news. The company is also making a push into original, nonnews content, such as interviews with nonprofits and startups making change in the world. Carter plans to introduce a podcast this month, in which she will interview actresses and entrepreneurs about ways to stay positive during the pandemic.
News for the Public Good
News publishers often use metadata to keep advertising off articles about tragedy. And brands that advertise on their websites now seem to be taking a similar tack, using software to restrict their ads from appearing alongside coronavirus news, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Good news should theoretically offer a safe space for brands, but some good-news sites are feeling the crunch from advertisers, too.
“Our advertisers are pretty unsure of what’s going to happen in one month or two months, so they’re holding onto their money right now,” said Harvey of Good Good Good. “We are seeing a lot fewer brands willing to pull the trigger.”
The administrators of good-news accounts on Instagram say they have not monetized their accounts yet, despite their popularity. For some, it’s on principle.
“I haven’t made a penny,” said Michelle Figueroa, who runs @GoodNews_Movement.
“I don’t monetize,” said Mauro Gatti, the founder of @The_Happy_Broadcast. “I refuse 100% of inbound requests because I want to keep it focused on the goal of improving mental health.”
Klein said she doesn’t see the interest in good news slowing anytime soon. Across the country people are still isolated, stressed out and grieving.
“A lot of traffic on good news stories is driven by social media,” she said, “especially now when everyone’s stuck in their house. While in the past someone might have scrolled through a headline that might be a feel-good story, now they might stop and click on it.”
“There’s so many ways this pandemic is affecting people’s lives,” said Lakin Hutcherson, “but one thing we all have in common is the need for relief from it.”
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