Think about telling a story to someone. It could be anything: a car wreck you saw, the rude waiter who shocked your dinner party with his behavior, the job that’s just killing you, etc.
Now think again, and ask yourself a question. Why do so many stories we tell have such a negative angle? Consumers of the news, which is roughly about 75-80% of Americans, complain that the news is too negative. The news biz even has the dark, cynical expression: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Think of Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese tsunami, the recent storms in the US.
Human drama, misery, suffering, actions in the midst of chaos, salvation (personal or collective), and rising from the ashes of destruction are recurring themes in human culture. They appear in literature, art, movies, television, music, folk tales and fables, and on and on.
So if human beings are so stuck on misery, does a reporter always have to find the story angle that’s negative? I say the answer is no.
Yesterday an editor asked me to write about Earth Day, which sounded like a mind-numbing topic, and extremely vague. I couldn’t imagine anything with less drama than “a story about Earth Day.” But as a journalist, you have to be willing to find the story worth telling in everything you encounter, no matter how small.
I started by researching Earth Day websites, and almost fell asleep. So I called the organization Earth Day Network to ask a few questions. I had no idea what to ask, since their website was so dense it was hard to narrow it down. In the end, I found out that this organization is doing something called “A Billion Acts of Green.” They are serving as a database for people to log their environmentally friendly actions, which they will take to a once-a-decade UN climate meeting in 2012 in Rio de Janeiro.
It seems like there is no drama and no interesting angle in a story like this, until you think of the devastating impact that humans have had on the earth through industry, pollution, and just being humans. That’s the downside, that’s the blood for the lead.
But the real lead here is that there are still people who believe they can change things. Earth Day Network hopes there are at least 1 billion people willing to reduce their carbon footprint. If that kind of optimism can’t be called dramatic, I don’ t know what can.