As tragic news unfolds around the world, media has an opportunity to be a force for good

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When news organizations first started sending out mobile push alerts, I jumped at the chance to sign up. The ability to receive alerts on my phone, in real time, gave me a rush as a news junkie.

Lately, though, I’ve seriously considered deactivating them. In recent weeks, they’ve delivered updates about shootings, stabbings, and bombings. The jarring headlines, which pop up on my phone without notice, have made the world seem like a dark place — darker than ever, perhaps.

The recent incidences in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas, Nice, Munich and other cities around the world have been nothing short of tragic. But contrary to what we might think, research shows that the world isn’t more violent than it used to be, even though a lot of media coverage would suggest otherwise.

“People think the world is getting worse. … That’s the perception,” author and computer scientist Ray Kurzweil said at a conference last week. “What’s actually happening is our information about what’s wrong in the world is getting better. A century ago, there would be a battle that wiped out the next village, you’d never even hear about it. Now there’s an incident halfway around the globe and we not only hear about it, we experience it.”

Cognitive scientist Stephen Pinker did extensive research on this topic for his book, “The Better Angels Of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.”

“The only way you can really answer the question — has violence gone up or down? — is to count how many violent incidents have there been as a proportion of the number of opportunities, and has that gone up or down over the course of history? And that’s what I tried to do in the book,” Pinker told NPR in an interview earlier this month. “I looked at homicide, looked at war, looked at genocide, looked at terrorism. And in all cases, the long-term historical trend, though there are ups and downs and wiggles and spikes, is absolutely downward. The rate of violent crime in United States has fallen by more than half in just a decade. The rate of death in war fell by a factor of 100 over a span of 25 years.”

Pinker’s book was published four years ago, but it’s been widely quoted over the past month as people search for answers about whether violence is in fact on the rise. The Republican and Democratic conventions have further fueled the conversation, with Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan and Michelle Obama’s assertion that it’s already great.

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10 tips for media practitioners covering tragedies & Restorative Narratives

evin Becker (right) at ivoh’s Restorative Narrative Colloquium last week. Photo by Gloria Muñoz.

Kevin Becker (right) at ivoh’s Restorative Narrative Colloquium last week. Photo by Gloria Muñoz.

What do communities need from media in the aftermath of tragedy?

We explored this question at length during ivoh’s Restorative Narrative Colloquium and Retreat last weekend. The event brought together a group of about 40 media practitioners, educators, psychologists, and others interested in the impact that Restorative Narratives can have on people and communities.

One of the event’s speakers — clinical psychologist Kevin Becker — shared tips for media practitioners looking to tell Restorative Narratives in communities that have been affected by tragedy. There are three things, he said, that communities need after tragedies: safety, predictability, and control.

Media makers can take this into account when telling Restorative Narratives. Specifically, they can provide safety by creating a safe space for people to talk about what they’ve been through, and by letting sources know that they are committed to telling their story accurately and fairly. They can providepredictability by giving sources a sense of what the story will be about so that they’re not surprised when they open the paper or turn on the TV. Additionally, media makers can provide control by letting sources know that they have control over whether or not they choose to share their story and over what information they choose to share.

Becker, who has specialized in crisis intervention and trauma for 25 years, shared several other helpful insights during the colloquium and in a follow-up conversation with ivoh. Here are some related tips for media practitioners to consider when telling stories in a tragedy’s aftermath …

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