Good news? Sure, if you look for it
D.J. TICE , Star Tribune
Ordinarily, I am inclined to defend my profession against the familiar charge that we journalists overemphasize bad news.
The accusation is perfectly true, of course, in the sense that dramatically dark events make up a tiny fraction of everything that actually happens in the world — but play a vastly larger role in “the news.” Yet journalism that tried to represent these proportions correctly might soon become tiresome and unwieldy.
“Nearly all Minnesotans survive Tuesday,” would read the banner headline. “Here are their stories.” Or “Major disasters few and far between again this week.”
What’s more, trouble, scandal and conflict — admittedly, the holy trinity of the news business — often genuinely need to be reported. They often are symptoms of situations that need fixing.
And then, less nobly perhaps, there’s this: Trouble is interesting. It makes a good story. Great tale tellers from Homer and Shakespeare on down have seldom conjured fictional worlds where mostly everything went just fine.
All that said, it is true that dramatically good news often gets too little attention, or rather too quickly becomes ho-hum old news. The result may be that we don’t learn all we can from welcome events. Why things ever go right, after all, is at bottom just as mysterious and worthy of study as why they too often go wrong.
The mood of the moment seems a bit gloomy — or so, naturally, the news and the polls tell us. In honor of the holiday season, devoted to being of good cheer, here are reminders of three good-sized good-news stories worth keeping in mind.
First, the stunning decline in crime. This story has surely been told, but polls suggest that the facts still aren’t well and widely understood — especially the scale and durability of the trend. Almost certainly this is in part because news coverage of crime has declined much less than crime itself has — crime being important and interesting and all.
Still, while some places continue to endure chaos and carnage, the overall signs of a receding crime wave — confirmed in the FBI’s release of 2013 statistics a couple months ago — are remarkable.
The FBI reports that the rate of violent crime across America (per 100,000 people) has been cut just about in half over the past 20 years (down 48.4 percent). This includes a 50-percent drop in the murder rate, 36 percent for rape, and 54 percent for robbery.
More than 1 million fewer violent crimes were committed in 2013 than would have occurred if the 1994 rate of mayhem had remained unchanged.
This magnitude of improvement in a complex social ill almost defies explanation, especially because it has happened nearly everywhere, even internationally. The debate over its causes — everything from more incarceration to legalized abortion has been credited — can quickly turn this good news into a source of strife. But much research suggests that a significant part of the transformation remains simply unexplainable, except as an abrupt generational shift in attitude, notably among young minority males.
Of course, there is still too much crime, and — as we know from the troubles in Ferguson, Mo., and New York and elsewhere — too much suspicion and violence between minority communities and police. But the overall story about crime in America today is good, inexplicably good. That’s worth remembering just now.
Another place where bloodletting has diminished is on our highways. Yet here again, one sometimes hears transportation advocates or politicians, lamenting the sorry condition of our infrastructure, slip into suggestions that roads have become more dangerous. Happily, it’s not so, not even close.
According to “Crash Facts,” published by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 387 people died on Minnesota roads in 2013. That was down from 655 just a decade ago — and down from 1,060 in the peak year of 1968.
Far more impressively, the fatality rate (per million miles driven) was down last year by more than 87 percent from its peak in the late 1960s. (The national trend is similar, though Minnesota’s is better.)
More than 2,500 additional Minnesotans (about seven per day) would have died in crashes in 2013 if our roads had remained as dangerous as they were half a century ago.
Arguments can certainly still be had about government-mandated safety equipment, drunken-driving laws and more. But there’s no denying that a combination of safer cars, safer roads and safer drivers has brought about a stunning decline in highway tragedy in our time.
Finally, on the world scene, it’s easy in this age of economic stress and dissatisfaction in the rich West to miss the historic progress made in recent decades in easing the worst extremes of poverty and deprivation in the developing world. Levels of want and disparity are still appalling. But a glimpse of the encouraging trend is found in the United Nation’s “The World Population Situation in 2014: A Concise Report.”
The report shows that in the early 1950s, well over 20 percent of the whole world’s children died before the age of 5. In Africa, it was well over 30 percent. Today, the world rate is about 5 percent and Africa’s about 10 percent.
Still much too high. Yet this is one sign of our era’s economic and social progress in the world’s poorest places, on a scale and at a pace never known before.
Surely worth noticing, just like a lot of other good news — and even if one has to look a little harder to find it.