The fans themselves have been instrumental in spreading the Positive News brand. Ilonka Wolch came across a UK edition of Positive News in the late ‘90s while in Ireland, and decided to produce a US version. With 300 subscribers, it’s a much smaller base than the UK version, but they still manage to distribute over 50,000 copies four times a year, using the same types of funding. Wolch says the fact that they have managed to do this every season is a “little bit like magic,” given their monetary limitations, but “somehow, it’s always enough” to pull it off and get their paper out to the public. “Usually the only part of the newspaper that promotes human empowerment is the horoscope,” says Wolch. “My big wish for Positive News is that eventually we will have a bit of influence, and push big papers to have some of the negative stuff balanced with some positive.”
In regions with a recent history of political turmoil, positive stories can serve to encourage and acknowledge the good things happening there. That’s the mission behind South Africa- The Good News, a website started by Steuart Pennington in 2004, based on his book of the same title. It highlights stories about how South Africa has progressed since the end of apartheid in 1994. The site aggregates stories from other outlets, runs original posts about different charities and programs, sometimes running pieces written by the nonprofits themselves, such as a recent post about an internet access program called the Vote for Table Mountain Campaign. Pennington also writes a newsletter, where he sometimes questions negative stories from the mainstream news, such as a recent post that challenges how statistics were used in a story about dismal university rankings in South Africa.
Pennington quoted Arthur Miller to help illustrate his point: “A good newspaper is a nation talking to itself.” He’s trying to steer the national conversation towards how far South Africa has come since apartheid. This approach has brought in 65,000 unique visitors a month. Pennington loves his country, and hopes his work will encourage further improvement. “In South Africa, our biggest challenges are of transformation and healing,” he says. “That’s more difficult to achieve when much of the narrative is so negative.” There is also a companion site, Africa - The Good News, with stories from around the continent. The hope is to expand further, with niche sites for every country in Africa, each telling stories of progress.
Majid Mirza has a similar approach with The Good News PK, with positive stories from the bad-news mainstay that is Pakistan. But he doesn’t see his site as a news outlet quite yet. “We’re just centralizing stuff,” said Mirza. He hopes to eventually report stories and write original content, because he’s gotten so much feedback from readers who appreciate his approach. “It’s difficult for people when there is a lot of political strikes and struggles to focus on,” says Mirza. “We’re just trying to give people a break.”
Geri Weis-Corbley, creator of the Good News Network (GNN), says that she sees her traffic peak on particularly dismal news days. The day Lehman brothers tanked, her traffic spiked 45 percent. She said she also notices a jump every September 11th. She posts stories from other outlets, often based on readers’ suggestions, much like all the sites I came across. She also writes blog posts and a daily e-mail newsletter. For this year’s 9/11 anniversary, she sent out the same newsletter from ten years ago, which was a collection of inspirational stories from that day. Her slogan used to be “If it’s good deeds, it leads,” but she now calls the Good News Network “news to enthuse.”
GNN is going on its fifteenth year. Weis-Corbley used to do freelance video and editing work, and would often speak with colleagues about her good-news ideas. “They would always says it wouldn’t sell.” Four years ago she polled her readers, asking if they would be willing to pay for good news. When 800 people responded, and seventy percent of them said yes, she started putting some of the content behind a paywall. Access to the site currently costs fifteen dollars for a year, and almost 8,000 people have paid to subscribe since she started charging—proving, she says, that “good news does sell.”