Does the Media Have a Negative Effect on Innovation?

October 30, 2012 — 3 Comments

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A recent article by Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Perils of Always Ignoring the Bright Side” got me thinking. Using the examples of GM crops and shale gas, Ridley makes the argument that the media’s singular interest in reporting negative outcomes has caused us to miss the potentially significant benefits of these two innovations. “Good news is deemed less newsworthy than the bad,” he writes, and as a result new technologies are harder than ever to get adopted.

It seems to me that this doesn’t just apply to innovations—where there may need to be a balancing of negative and positive—but also to new ideas that are clearly good. If good news is uninteresting to the media, then one of our most powerful tools for spreading new ideas and speeding the uptake of new approaches is lost to us. At a time when some of the most pressing problems are, at their root, issues of behavior it is tragic that the single most powerful tool for affecting behavior, storytelling, is being underutilized because the business of media perceives bad news to be the only way to engage an audience.

What are the alternatives? It is interesting to me that arguably the most successful new media venture of the last decade takes an almost entirely positive view on storytelling. TED has evolved from a cloistered conference for the technological elite to a storytelling machine consisting of hundreds of TEDx conferences a year and millions of downloads of TED talk videos. The success of this venture, and the appeal it seems to have with the young, suggests that a more optimistic approach has a market and is capable of inspiring engagement and action.

A reasonable criticism of TED is that it does a wonderful job of describing a high level idea in 18 minutes or less. This gives little time for a balanced explanation and a measured exploration of the implications of a given idea.

David Bornstein is advocating positive journalism through his organizations, and the Solutions Journalism Network. I am hopeful that Bornstein’s approach will result in deep, balanced, but essentially optimistic and helpful journalism that helps good ideas spread and scale. You can see David talking more about the thinking behind solutions journalism here.

Where are the best examples you’ve seen of balanced, solutions-focused journalism that’s helping the spread of new ideas?

Drawing by Beau Bergeron / Courtesy of IDEO.

(posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Tim Brown


3 responses to Does the Media Have a Negative Effect on Innovation?

  1. Just a quick comment… I think it is a double edge sword… The media can definitely help spread the word and also serve as a bull horn to gather feedback. But it can also hinder as it can only present “bite-sized” responses. Innovation is more complex than general media can represent.

  2. Long before the mighty TED broke down its walls was blazing a trail for a more balanced and positive journalistic view on the world.

    It also had something most other networks didn’t (and still don’t) – an audience who created the media it also consumed (I think it was around a third – consumer generated content – was shown by the network when I was talking about it in my presentations nearly five years ago).

    Obviously, with the rise of new and then social media, the opportunity to craft our own ‘media menus’ has arrived – it’s just the skills and interest which is still not widespread.

    Another way to spread ideas and storytelling is to ensure those who leave comments also get to leave their digital breadcrumb – this blog currently has this function turned off. Solutions need conversation, recognition, challenges plus transparency – please reconsider Tim (then again, your blog, your rules) :-)

  3. Ana Teresa Silva January 29, 2014 at 11:09 am

    To answer your question: Where are the best examples you’ve seen of balanced, solutions-focused journalism that’s helping the spread of new ideas?
    IM Magazine, no doubt!
    IM Magazine is an independent platform for international news that covers projects, best practices, ideas, people and organizations that are making a positive impact in the world.
    It’s also a place for inspiration and transformation. Make your own personal revolution is the motto.

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