By Masara Kim

Every day, we are confronted by a barrage of messages; from mobile phone to the radio, TV, internet, newspapers and handbills among others. Each of these often carries with it a particular spike which has the potential to stimulate fear or inspiration as the case may be.
 In Nigeria, media practitioners have developed a very unique way of capturing and sustaining the attention and interest of their audience, viewers or readers by injecting all manner of sensations into their reports; from in-debt investigation (investigative journalism) or in most cases, rumours and fictitious fabrications.
For a story to be newsworthy, the following conditions are expedient; frequency, unexpectedness, unambiguity, personalization, meaningfulness, reference to elite nations, reference to elite persons, conflict, consonance, continuity, composition and competition among others. But why is negativity among? But why does negativity seem to sale faster? Galtung and Ruge’s list includes this in the ingredients of news but then it’s not the most important, yet it seems to have more relevance. Are human beings naturally attracted to bad news?
According to a report on blog.relationaladvantage.com, humans exhibit this attraction to bad news thanks in large part to what is called the negativity bias.  This bias refers to a “psychological phenomenon by which humans pay more attention to and give more weight to negative rather than positive experiences.” 
This bias helps humans scan their environment for potential dangers so they can learn how to avoid them, but this attraction to negativity can backfire if we allow it.
The brain reacts to negative stimuli with a greater surge in electrical activity. Due this surge, our perceptions are more strongly influenced by bad news than good news.  In fact, negativity is so powerful that researchers have found that it takes five positive experiences to counter one negative experience.  It’s for this reason, in part, that many people struggle with pessimism, anxiety, discouragement and other symptoms of depression.
But are Nigerians making ample use of this negative bias for positive development? Is the situation in Nigeria getting any better with the growing wave of negative reportage within the media cycle?
In the 60s and 70s when journalism was at its best in Nigeria, with the principles of truth and justice being observed and accorded the highest premium, Nigeria seems to have been better off in terms of politics and economy. There were also lesser cases of security disturbances and many other social menace that are so prominent with today’s world. The country progressed geometrically in spite of the low socioeconomic status of the country at that time. The global age of technological advancement was yet to have a bearing on Nigeria, yet the country enjoyed the much needed publicity and patronage from the coasts and ends of the earth. Today however, with the increase in population, civilization and international relations, local GDP and foreign reserve among others, the country still seems to be battling among the world’s poorest economies, a situation that is very pathetic for a country that is so acclaimed the giant of the African continent and one of the world’s greatest producers of crude oil.
In my analysis, journalism being a profession that is founded on the principles of truth and justice requires that all those coming into it must be willing to eschew all sentiments and treat facts as facts and comments as comments. The inability of media practitioners to strike a balance between these two variables is one of the greatest factors that have contributed to the fall of the journalism profession and the gross disrespect that journalists suffer in recent times and by extension, added to the socioeconomic downfall of the country.
Today, it is common to hear journalists being addressed as “press boys” or “men of the lying profession”. This is no doubt not unconnected with the proliferation of quacks in the system.
Journalism is a noble profession, one that outshines any other in terms of prestige and authority, but the inability of stakeholders within the system to ensure that only qualified men are allowed into the field has given the profession a bad name, that many now look at it as a time-pass that people only come in to earn a living while scouting for greener pastures in their respective fields of specialization.
What is more worrisome is that in fact, aside the fact that many journalists who could not bear the wanton disrespect and degradation surrounding the profession have abandoned the art, many professionals have been forced to slide off the track of maintaining high standards and ethics to embrace the high sensations and sentiments eminent in the styles of the nonprofessionals in the system which seems to be the only sellable style in the Nigerian system.
Unfortunately, the attitude of most Nigerians towards factual and professional news reports has not helped matters as headlines that project violence or conflict, disaster, corruption or even misfortune often attract more attention and patronage. A typical example is the recent cases of bombings and mass killings in the Northern part of the country which have continued to resurface with even greater severity. For some of us within the system, the challenge has always been whether to try divert peoples’ attention to other positive developments in the country as a way of inspiring hope or reporting the bad occurrences as a way of cautioning and warning the public. However, the positive developments seem to enjoy lesser patronage when reported perhaps because of the aforementioned reason of negative bias which is a psychological characteristic of most humans.
 According to researchers, 53.4% of the news on television alone depicts violence, conflict and suffering. The worse the report, the more likely it is to be the lead story and the more likely the attention because humans are naturally attracted to bad news.
Owen Spencer-Thomas tried to examine this issue in his write-up tagged “news values” where he said journalists are at pains to point out that they select a story because of its interest value rather than simply because it is negative.  A bad news story is of interest if it is about events that make a considerable impact, are out of the ordinary, easy to grasp, or readily identified with. 
Additionally, Spencer-Thomas thinks news stories can be bad for some and good for others.  A defeat for the Republicans in the USA, or the Conservative Party in the UK, will be good news for Democrats, or the Labour Party.
Be that as it may, development in any sector of human existence can only be influenced by positivity and positivity is all about standing out in times of trouble, i.e. the ability to still think positive even in the midst of bad news.
For Nigeria to progress, both the media and the general public need to rise up to the challenge of overlooking evil; not necessarily ignoring it but giving positivity a higher premium, working to expose and not publicize evil as that is the only way to inspire positive change.
Admittedly, it can be extremely challenging to maintain an optimistic attitude when you are surrounded by bad news and uncertainty. But as Jonathan, a popular blogger on blogspot once wrote, the main thing to understand here is that your attitude, outlook, mood, and happiness are all personal decisions. For some reason, that doesn’t seem to be common knowledge, but just because others allow outside influences to rain on their parade doesn’t mean that you have to.
According to him, deciding to be positive in spite of popular opinion is like making a decision to be happy, successful, abundant and peaceful. Once you decide to be positive you won’t need to listen to the talking heads on the news because their version of the world no longer applies to you.
More so, negativity draws more negativity, like a magnet. Beating yourself up and being negative will only move you further and further from a solution.
Bad news can only get you down if you let it. Only if you are paying attention to it and letting it push you around. Only if you are allowing it to make you feel scared and negative. You decide how much power it has over you.
To this end, there is a huge need for general attitudinal change and ethical orientation on the part of opinion molders and the general public.
Nigeria is ours to build but unless the right steps are taken in the right direction, no progress will be recorded any soon. To this end, all hands must be on deck to reverse the growing trend of negative reportage and bad news attachment which is badly affecting our development by negatively influencing our youth and diverting our energy from meaningful development. Let us learn from developed nations like America; reports have it that there is no day that a case of shooting and killing is not recorded in some streets in the states but hardly do you see these making headlines. In Nigeria however, these are the things we enjoy best. But we are not progressing all the same. When a particular step fails to yield results as expected, it is only wise to re-strategize and restock.
God bless Nigeria.