Archive for Sunday, September 25, 2005

Web site offers only happy news

September 25, 2005


— The news menu was stuffed with the dreadful and appalling on Friday. A massive hurricane bearing down on Texas. A bus fire killing 24 elderly people near Dallas. Floods ravaging New Orleans - again. And that was before you even considered what's happening to the economy, or in Iraq or Afghanistan, or anywhere else in this sad, wicked world.

You see any happy news out there?

As it happens, the people who produce did. There it was, right at the top of their Web site, bordered by a sunny yellow frame and adorned with smiley faces: "Hurricane Rita still weakening."

And: "Majority to back Algerian peace plan."

And: "Indonesia takes steps to prevent bird flu.", started three months ago, covers many of the international, national, sports and entertainment stories that the big guys do. But as the name implies, it doesn't cover them the same way. Happynews doesn't do bummers: no death, no destruction, no shocking Lindsay Lohan weight-loss updates. Which is to say, it doesn't do the kinds of stories that have come to define the contemporary concept of "news."

World-weary journalists may scoff, but Happynews founder and publisher Byron Reese says that his Web site's take on the world may be more representative than what he sees in the newspaper or on TV.

"I think the news media should give people an accurate view of reality," says Reese, 36, an Internet entrepreneur who lives in Austin, Texas. "What the media gives us now is not an accurate view. It's distorted. I don't want to sound like a media basher, because I'm not, but news organizations tend to report what people want and what they'll buy."

In fact, Reese says, good news has been trumping bad for some time: "We've cured childhood diseases, ended legal segregation, lengthened the average lifespan and improved the quality of life for millions of people." Murder rates have been declining for years, he adds, yet the number of stories on network newscasts about murders has soared.

So far, Happynews seems to have struck a chord. Reese says the site got 70,000 unique visitors in its first full month of operation in August and traffic has been building since then. (He makes no linkage to the onslaught of bad news lately). He's also seeing something he's never seen in his years creating Web sites: Daily fan mail.

Which, of course, makes him happy.


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