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Technology

Who Needs AOL's Creepy "Good News" Site?

This week AOL News launched a Sears-sponsored news site that only reports good news. It's called GNN, or Good News Network. Is the world really so dark that we need our online news filtered through a Lexapro-colored lens?

Self-filtering news coverage isn't a new phenomenon; we all choose our news outlets based on our political or geographic biases. But the notion that online news—which has popularized because of its comprehensive, digressive, real-time nature—could be rendered purblind to all things unfortunate is, well, sort of unfortunate. 

But maybe I'm a simple cynic, and I don't see just how depressing our mainstream news outlets are. So I subjected three major sites to a "good news analysis" to see if they offer as little hope as GNN's very existence would imply. Then I subjected GNN to the same criteria, and was surprised to find that GNN offered an aftertaste of doom that the others lacked.

First CNN: There's plenty of scary stuff here; influenza outbreak is "not stoppable" according to one headline, and it seems that the death of "Tommy the cat," whomever that feline might be, is "linked to serial killer." Also sad: a family business hit by recession, a guard shot by a white supremacist at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and something about the vandalism of dead bodies. Gross.

CNN

But look what else there is: news about the end of President Ahmadinejad's term, the fight against a rare disease called dystonia, news about the fancy new digital TV switch-over, tickers that report the markets are up an average of 1% today, and for some added levity, a bit about Stephen Colbert's USO trip to Baghdad. Oh, and apparently there are now officially one million words in the English language, which is cool. The world according to CNN has problems, foreign and domestic, but there appear to be solutions, too.

The New York Times has some of the same ill events as CNN—the flu pandemic, the museum gunman, and so on. It also has a piece about municipal bunglings involving New York's emergency services, and news of a roiling political drama in the New York senate. Then again, the lede is a piece by Louise Story about how the government put pressure on Bank of America to buy Merrill Lynch late last year—a solid piece of reporting that adds transparency, however retrograde, to the black-box bailout process. That's progress. Progress is good.

So too is news that President Obama has a good chance of remaking our health care system, according to former President Clinton; whether or not you believe single-payer health care to be the solution, it's good to know that our government might be capable of experimenting with new solutions instead of resigning us to the inadequacies of the old. And while the World Bank reports a shrink in the world economy this year, growth in developed countries, the Times says, could resume as soon as next year. The paper also reports news of new Senate regulations on the tobacco industry—always good—and some rather sanguine op-eds in the top-left corner of the page. Today is a good day.

CNN

But to look at Good News Now gives one the impression that misfortune is somehow the universal norm, and any slight victory over it—no matter how pathetic—should be celebrated. The lede is a story about a woman who was forced to give birth alone after being turned down by two hospitals in one day. The fact that the baby (and mom) survived is incidental to this story; we have a health care system that would allow this? Not. Good.

Equally saddening is the headline that "Americans Keep Giving Despite Recession." If you've been reading the normal news sites, you know that real unemployment could surmount Great Depression levels, that foreclosures in five states are threatening to undermine home values everywhere, that bankruptcies are peaking, and that layoffs are announced by the tens of thousands every month. Yet GNN's headline seems to suggest that Americans still haven't accepted that they're over-leveraged, broke and insolvent. These donations are from individual givers, not mega-millionaires or institutions. Why aren't these people saving?

Another story about some valuable paintings left at Goodwill in Toronto seems to have dubious karmic implications; obviously the person who "anonymously discarded" them had no idea of their worth. I guess found money is good news, unless you're the one who lost it.

Good News Now

Other GNN stories: two senior citizens who got married because they admitted that "each of us was living a lonely life," a grandma who finally finished her GED (?), and a baby that survived ejection from a car accident in Florida. Ahem. At least the Kenmore 4-Burner Gas Grill at Sears is only $280. That's auspicious news. Right?

Should AOL re-think its approach to GNN, the Web company might do well to consider that "good" news is not necessarily lobotomized news; thinking people can acknowledge that problems have solutions, that bad situations expire, and that evildoers are not the majority. And that right now, we don't need $280 grills, no matter how sunny the news might seem.

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