Why I’ve started The Good News Email.

My partner Hannah is from the UK, and to keep up with the news while overseas she installed the BBC news app. Every now and again the app interrupts the day with the urgent tones of a breaking news alert, making you aware of the latest plane crash, mass shooting or bloody coup. Over time we began to flinch upon hearing the news alert, thinking “Oh no, what’s happened now?” The foreboding sound eventually instilled the sort of existential dread usually reserved for the particular alarm chime that woke you up early each morning for school… until we turned it off.

We aren’t alone in opting to drop off and tune out. Conducted last year, a joint study between Rueters Institute and Oxford University found that a third of people often or sometimes avoid the news, with 48% saying they avoided the news because it has a negative effect on their mood. In the same survey, 28% said they avoided the news because they didn’t think they could do anything about it. News intended to keep people informed and help them take action is doing the exact opposite; we feel disengaged and disempowered.

I started searching for a way to stay informed without feeling cynical or depressed, and was amazed at what I found. There is a nascent but growing movement around constructive journalism, or ‘solutions journalism’, aiming to re-frame the conversation. Journalism doesn’t just mirror the world, it also influences it. In the same way that media reporting of terrible crimes can lead to ‘copycat criminals’, media reporting has the potential to create copycat changemakers, social entrepreneurs and local heroes!

So there’s positive news out there, and there are lots of journalists doing amazing work in this space. Why is it still so far below the mainstream radar? The undeniable fact is that news media is experiencing significant disruption. The current business models dictate that attention (eyeballs) equals revenue, and the best way to capture attention is with shock and fear. It’s a race to the bottom, hyper-accelerated by instant feedback and analytics – “if it bleeds it leads”. I came to realise that it wasn’t just a problem of negative bias in the news, but also of distribution: how do we shine a light on positive news?

Shout-out from Harvard Professor and bestselling author, Steven Pinker.

I’ve launched The Good News Email in an effort to amplify the amazing work of constructive journalists that I admire. It’s a curated selection of positive stories and solutions from around the world. I wanted to create the type of news alert that makes your heart sing when you see it, like a message from your mum or dad. My mission is to provide an alternative lens through which to see the world, one that encourages action rather than making you feel helpless and disempowered.

Why have I chosen an old-school newsletter to deliver this message? The Skimm, Finimize and Daily Pnut have led a renaissance in the world of ‘blissfully slow internet newsletters.’ In that vein, The Good News Email cuts through the noisy whirlwind of your social feeds and constantly updated news sites, to be read in the relative sanctuary of your personal inbox. It’s delivered once a week, every Monday. Subscribe at thegoodnewsemail.com.

Originally published on LinkedIn.

Good News Update

Beer in Hoi An

I’ve spent the past month bunkered down in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, working on a little project that I’ve been thinking about for about a year now. It’s an email newsletter focussed on ‘good news’ that attempts to balance a news cycle that favours the shocking, gruesome and grotesque.

It’s been an interesting time going through the many large and small decisions that come with starting an enterprise. I’ve tried to mix both the necessary admin like registering domains and social media accounts with the big picture stuff like validating the idea.

I drafted some emails and became semi-familiar with Mailchimp in an effort to craft some decent looking campaigns – I found the software incredibly easy to use. I’ve researched successful newsletters like The Skimm, The Hustle and Finimize. I played around with content and wrote two weeks worth of newsletters.

When I was ready I asked a group of friends to give some feedback on the idea, and signed up 20 of them for a little trial which is running now – I’ve scheduled the first four emails through Mailchimp.

In the meantime I’ve been working on setting up the website – I wanted something basic in WordPress but got so frustrated trying to customise it myself that I switched to Squarespace. At $30 AUD per month it’s more than I’d like to pay but it’s very easy to get up and running quickly, so I plan on looking for a more permanent solution later.

I’ve also been looking in to the business admin side of things – I toyed with setting up a company in the USA using Strip Atlas, or becoming an e-resident in Estonia, both of which look like interesting high-tech options. I settled with the cheapest and easiest option for me – becoming a sole trader in Australia. The only cost was registering the name of the business for $36.

I am vaguely aware that there are some tax implications of this business structure, so I searched for some online accounting software. Xero seems to be the clear leader in this space, but since I haven’t started and have no plans for revenue yet I didn’t want another $25 per month subscription. I did a bit of research and went with Wave, a cloud provider who have easy connections to bank accounts so I can import my credit card transactions and highlight the relevant expenses.

At times it seems like everything is coming together and on other days I feel like I wasted hours tinkering in WordPress to no avail. Overall it’s been a great learning experience so far and I’m really enjoying the process of setting things up!

I’m now in Hoi An, toasting the new venture with my Hannah, my partner in crime. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all goes!

Searching for Syria – evocative use of media

Searching for Syria - Screenshot

SearchingForSyria.org is a website put together by the UNHCR in partnership with Google. It’s a great example of storytelling on the web, using fantastic photos and an interactive site to convey a message.

More like a powerpoint presentation than a traditional website, navigation is minimised and stunning, full screen images take centre stage. “What was Syria like before the war” engenders empathy – google searches, Gorillaz concerts and days at the beach highlight universality, hammered home by personal stories and anecdotes.

Content and messaging is easy to read and clever use of media (like overlaid before and after photos with a sliding divider) amplify the words. The stories and images are truly horrific, and the statistics break your heart.

I think that efforts like this are really crucial in helping people understand the breath taking magnitude of a crisis like this and more importantly breaking down stereotypes and emphasising the human connection, the sameness in all of us.

The Best of Journalism

Conor Friedersdorf  is one of my favourite writers, and one (along with Sam Harris) that I turn to for nuanced (and counter-intuitive) takes on current affairs.

He puts together a “Best of Journalism” newsletter and each year publishes a list of over 100 exceptional pieces of journalism. This is an amazing snapshot of long form, investigative journalism that will keep you interested for hours.

Get lost in the abyss here.