James Rainey writes a column for the Los Angeles Times. His opinions focus on developments in the media itself–changes in NPR’s coverage, shifting foci at newspapers, etc. His editorial from Wednesday, March 25, 2009 discussed a topic of importance to me–Good News. He, of course, was actually talking about news being reported through typical news venues–newspapers, television, radio–that actually describes good things taking place. He made no reference to the theological concept of that “Gospel” means “Good News.”
Rainey gives some recent examples of Good News reporting. Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News, recently asked for and then reported stories of people responding positively during negative times. The Cape Cod Times recently ran a picture of the first crocus in bloom on its front page, apparently a minor victory for on of its editors. But the largest portion of the column described an award-winning journalist named Frank Greve.
Frank Greve writes for the California-based newspaper publishing company McClatchy. Greve went on the “Good News” beat some years ago. Initially, his shift in focus received an negative reaction from colleagues. But eventually, they started to appreciate his work because he “still reported and wrote with rigor.” Rainey wrote:
“Greve has noted how delayed licensing of drivers has driven down the teenage accident rate. He’s written about how many old people remain sexually active. He’s raised doubts about whether we should really need to worry about pharmaceutical contamination in drinking water.
That list of topics might seem like a hodgepodge, but there’s a common theme. Bad news grows out of conflict or loss. Good news often means just following the conflict through to a resolution.” (emphasis mine)
That assessment, that good news is often the resolution of what initially seemed like bad news, is a good word for me. There are obvious parallels here to the arc of Passion and Resurrection; Good Friday and Easter. However, I’d resist reducing our understanding of those events to the level of day-to-day news. But I find the reframing helpful. In my mind, there’s been a line of demarcation between “Good News” and “Bad News.” Rainey’s statement shifts the metaphor so as to suggest that good news and bad news belong to the same narrative axis.
In one of my favorite studies of Metaphor in Ortony’s Metaphor and Thought, Donald Schon describes how those dealing with community problems can empower themselves to see new solutions if they will shift the metaphors they use to describe the “problem.” He talked about the difference between seeing a neighborhood as “broken” versus seeing a neighborhood as “developing.” This is more than wordsmithing a more positive spin on problems. By seeing a neighborhood as “developing” he said, community workers begin drawing from a very different set of models, resources, and case studies in order to bring about positive change.
Similarly, I think Rainey’s insights suggest a way of rethinking the “problem.” The dichotomy between “bad news” and “good news” that I had been clinging to framed our situation in static terms. Rainey’s way of thinking introduces the idea of movement, the potential born in every moment for change. Yes, to be realistic we must accept that “good news” is also on a narrative axis with “bad news.” Situations will change–sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better. But here and now, it is at least hope-producing and I think tangibly helpful to reframe our current problems as developing good news.