Negative News

November 20th, 2015
"Wheat prices fell for a fifth straight year today. We're here with a fourth generation farmer, trying to understand how a race to the bottom makes it harder and harder for small farmers to make ends meet."

"Walk down the aisles at any grocery store and you can see the impact everywhere: a loaf of bread that costs 40% more than this time last year, a pound of pasta for $1.50, flour in four pound bags when the same price used to get you five. The costs of these basic necessities are out of control, and it's hitting us right in the pocketbook."

"While buying a house used to be a mark of adulthood, more and more millenials are realizing that with rising prices they may never be able to afford the stability of a home to call their own. Their futures mortgaged to pay for ever more expensive degrees, America's young workers can only look at escallating real estate prices and sigh."

"Over the years American workers have been sold on home ownership. 'Buy land', they said, 'they're not making any more of it!' Everyone believed the only direction property values could go was up. But as with all bubbles, this one had to burst, and falling home values have hurt the elderly the most. After paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to the bank over decades, many would-be retirees are finding that their home is worth far less than they expected. We're sitting here with a 65-year-old grandmother of five, on how the best offer on her home was $100k less than she needs to retire, and how she's had to put her plans on hold for the forseable future."

"The changes seemed nice at first. High paying jobs meant more investment in the local community. The old industrial buildings that had been empty for decades were seeing new life as offices, the city was turning vacant lots into parks, the subway extension opened up with a stop right in the square. First time in my memory our neighborhood was somewhere people wanted to live. But then the evictions started. People who I'd known for years started seeing their rents bumped by 2x, friends getting pushed out by childless professionals who could afford to pay more in rent than my friends even earned. And while in theory those of us who owned our houses were now sitting on top of land that was worth a pretty penny, in practice the only real effects were exploding property taxes and lots of entitled yuppies who wanted to 'live carfree' and talk about which taco place was more 'authentic'. And now my next door neighbor is raising chickens in their backyard, all excited about the 'sustainability' of their noisy smelly birds."

"When I grew up our city was bustling. Those were boom years, when there were far more jobs than people to do them. Wages were high, the subway was expanding, and new homes were going up on every block. But the industry changed, jobs moved away, and our city is now a shell of its former self. There are more houses than people, so they rent for less than it costs to keep them in good repair. Which of course the landlords don't bother with, since their properties are worth less and less every year. I keep hearing on the news about another meth lab getting busted, and it's harder and harder for me to get my pseuedofed refils. This town is becoming a dump and it just makes me so sad and angry when I remember what it used to be."

Nearly any change that's positive for some people is negative for others, but it's much easier to tell a story about the people who are hurt. Stories about people who are doing well in life feel superficial and unimportant, while stories about struggles feel real and meaningful. In one sense this is good: it's important for us to see the things that aren't working well so we can fix them. On the other hand, this widespread negativity leads to a perception that things are worse than they are, and getting more serious over time. Worse, a negativity that pushes back reflexively against all changes by finding the people most hurt by them works to strengthen our attachment to the status quo, maintaining harmful systems. What would reporting look like that didn't have this problem? How could we change the incentives for journalism to get us there?

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