Time magazine has an end-of-the-decade issue with a cover, sent in by Dmitriy T.M., that summarizes what they consider major events between 2000 and 2010:
The stories illustrate the way that, as ESPN puts it, “only bad news counts as news.” Of the 118 items chosen by the editors as “what really happened” over the last ten years, a few are what most people would probably see as relatively positive or benign (such as achievements in sports and the rescue of the Chilean miners) and others would probably fall into the “neutral” category (“U.S. Election” doesn’t say anything about the election — or, for that matter, even indicate which of the various elections that occurred during that time frame it refers to). And a few are just…odd. “AOL-Time Warner Merger” is one of the most important events of the decade? And “The Dark Knight Release” was selected as the most significant pop-culture-related event? Um…okay.
But the majority of items are clearly negative/scary, or at least I think the editors assume they’d be seen that way: BP oil spill, a space shuttle disaster, various diseases, several bombings, “Disaster in Darfur,” the Haiti earthquake, a tire recall, and various topics related to economic problems. According to the ESPN post,
The Time selection says nothing about major positive trends such as declining international military spending (rising U.S. spending is the exception to the rule), declining teen pregnancy rates, declining crime, declining accidental deaths. “U.K. foot and mouth crisis” [a livestock disease]…was cited, but nothing said about declining cancer rates. “Shark attack” was cited, but nothing was said about the dramatic rise in living standards in most of the developing world. (“Overall, poor countries are catching up with rich countries” on nearly all central measures, according to this important new [United Nations] report.)
The post continues, “Yes, journalists have always loved bad news, and have long pretended good news doesn’t exist.” That’s going a bit far. For instance, local newspapers often take part in what Harvey Molotch described as the “growth machine,” a collection of organizations, institutions, businesses, political leaders, and influential community members that support economic growth. Media outlets may contribute to such boosterism by running positive stories and providing space (in op-eds, etc.) for predominantly rosy depictions of the community.
That said, media scholars do criticize news outlets for focusing so much attention on stories that are sensationalistic or that imply the world is an incredibly dangerous, scary place, and leading the public to have quite unrealistic perceptions of actual sources of risk. And Time‘s editors play into this with their selection of the most significant stories of the past decade.