Turning to ‘good news’ in troubled times: How two journalists took charge

Depressed by social media feeds? Overwhelmed by the sheer weight of sky-falling-down stories and the volume of rancor?

Change it. Make it better, balance it out, help your friends, says Erin Ruberry, a former Huffington Post and Discovery Communications journalist who puts out “In Better News,” a daily newsletter of good news.

“I make a really conscious choice on what I’m going to put on my feed,” Ruberry says. “There are so many places for outrage, and I don’t want to do that.”

New York Times journalist Desiree Shoe agrees — and like Ruberry, she has done something about it. In early December, the London-based homepage editor began the Times’ “This Week in Good News” roundup, a mix of the news organization’s brightest stories.

While some human interest (and international) stories have been squeezed out of news outlets dominated by the deluge of Washington news, Ruberry and Shoe have found opportunity in bucking the trend. Ruberry has created a newsletter community and built her social followers offering hope — and now she’s getting tips and check-ins from readers that help propel her through the day.

“I feel like I’ve tapped into this network of really lovely people online — caring, thoughtful. I do think they are friends. I know not everyone on the internet has had the same experience.”

The Times’ Shoe also is finding personal and professional benefits from her weekly roundup. “We've had fantastic reader feedback, with lots of smart suggestions,” she says in an email. “And yes, on the days I'm putting Good News together, I certainly find myself laughing a lot more, and overwhelmed (in a good way) by some of the beautiful stories out there that can sometimes get stifled by current events.”

In an introductory note to readers, Shoe gave a kind of mission statement: “It isn’t all bad out there. This feature is meant to send you into the weekend with a smile, or at least a lighter heart.”

Other news outlets also are seeking an antidote to Trump overload. The Washington Post has developed verticals for inspiring stories and animal features — and one of its most popular newsletters since 2014 has been The Optimist, a weekend compilation of aspirational, future-oriented and human interest stories. HuffPost has a Good News vertical, although it also includes Weird News (i.e. “Family’s Fabulous Pet Chicken Gets Own Obituary In Local Newspaper”). Buzzfeed groups together Feel Good Stories, such as “18 Reasons Why 2018 Is Already Substantially Better than 2017” (No. 16. “I Found This Beautiful One-Eyed Cat on Instagram”).

Ruberry freely admits her newsletter, launched in autumn 2016, was a reaction to her social feeds during the Trump-Clinton campaign. “I just felt in the lead-up to the election, there was so much negativity, on both sides. Twitter, in particular, became a toxic place. I found myself actively seeking out and sharing good news. Once I started looking for those stories, I found them everywhere.”

Shoe's Times roundup takes a broad approach. Her latest includes stories on Yale's most popular course (on happiness), on the expanding economies worldwide and on Jamaica's effort to field an Olympic women's synchronized swimming team.

For readers looking for human interest stories in their feeds, Ruberry suggests local TV sites, where she finds features on people who are doing good deeds to improve the community. Amid Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, she did a series on ordinary people helping out. And she admits a fondness for The Dodo, the successful, upbeat site focusing on animal news. A newsletter she recommends: Girls Night In, which features self-care tips and book and article recommendations.

Ruberry says these newsletters — and her heartwarming social posts — are accompaniments to the daily news, not a replacement for it. “You read The New York Times,’’ she says, “then you go see a puppy video.”

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Readers, what are your favorite “good news” sources? How do you balance out your social feeds? Let me know at beardwrites@gmail.com.

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