There is, in fact, a very real appetite for negative content. Audiences read it, which is why there’s so much of it. But the exponential increase in the volume of content available to us, coupled with the hall-of-mirrors repetition of the worst sorts of news, requires us to be discerning news consumers.

By Patricia Graham, Brunswick News ombudswoman

It was a somber opening for the UN General Assembly’s annual ministerial meeting a couple of weeks ago in New York.

“This year,” said UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon, “the horizon of hope is darkened”.

“Our hearts are made very heavy by unspeakable acts and the deaths of innocents. Cold War ghosts have returned to haunt our times. We have seen so much of the Arab Spring go violently wrong.

“Not since the end of the Second World War have there been so many refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers.”

And that’s only half of it.

Only hours before I read this I had spoken to a family member who was feeling overwhelmed by news of beheadings, police shootings, overpaid, hepped-up athletes behaving badly, global degradation and climate change, bomb strikes on Syria, Ebola, the spewing of hatred against women on the internet, the conflicts in Gaza and the Ukraine and, closer to home and something of a tipping point for this young person, the stabbing of a young Afghan immigrant at a Toronto high school.

Is this a manufactured, extreme example? Not at all; if you surf news sites, this isn’t even the full menu of the recent spate of horrid news. Another family member, an American and long-time daily reader of The New York Times, told me last week that for the first time he was considering cancelling his subscription.

We do seem to be living through a particularly dark period, as witnessed by Secretary-General’s remarks above. We are also experiencing an unprecedented amplification of the news.

Today the news of a beheading will reach me 20 or 50 or more times in a single day, via social media and whatever news sites I check in with or broadcasts I watch or listen to throughout the day. If I choose to (and I don’t) I might even watch video of all or part of the event, because graphic, violent images are easy to come by today.

Don’t blame mainstream media for this. They are simply doing their jobs, reporting the news using the various delivery mechanisms used today by news consumers.

I believe it is our great good fortune that that we are able to access news from thousands of sources anywhere in the world, any time of day. Some proclaim that “news is bad for you”. I rather think no news is bad for you. News connects us to our world, both globally and locally. It informs us, first and foremost, and it can also inspire and entertain us. Interestingly, entirely eliminating “bad news” may be psychologically challenging. In a recent blog on npr.org positing that “bingeing” on bad news can contribute to daily stress, a psychologist noted that our brains have evolved to “pay close attention to potential threats”.

There is, in fact, a very real appetite for negative content. Audiences read it, which is why there’s so much of it. But the exponential increase in the volume of content available to us, coupled with the hall-of-mirrors repetition of the worst sorts of news, requires us to be discerning news consumers.

If my parents managed their news input by selecting which newspaper to subscribe to and which television newscast to watch, what should my young relative do to manage today’s plenitude of content?

If you read online, be a choosy consumer: Most reputable new sites don’t want to constantly bombard you with a high volume of bad news, or rely too heavily on the “click-bait” of sensationalized bad news and graphic images. Choose sites that have a home page that usually provides the mix of content that works for you – there isn’t really a shortage of inspirational and good news, it’s where and how it’s presented.

Focusing on local news helps too, because local news publications include a good deal of community news, which is generally positive. Crime, which is especially popular with online readers, is the big exception; but again, reputable sites aren’t going to bombard you with crime that is emotionally overwhelming.

If you’re active on social media, be self-disciplined about what you click on. It’s a good idea to constantly trim and expand your feeds so that they are in sync with your own constantly changing interests and needs.

The newsrooms have a role to play in this too. Every good editor I know wants to make the world a better place through journalism, and understands the value of positive, inspirational and solution-based stories. Editors should be finely attuned to their readers, and that means being sensitive to how information is presented when there is a deluge of bad or very bad news.

I can be reached at ombudsman@brunswicknews.com.

This column was published originally by Brunswick News and reprinted here with Graham’s permission.