The news menu was stuffed with the dreadful and appalling yesterday. 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 Happynews.com 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."
Happynews.com, 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."
Unlike the media's bad news bearers, Happynews's glass is always at least half-full, and sometimes it bubbles right over. It is Prozac for the eyes: "India proposes free school for one-girl families," it declared brightly yesterday. A typical story from its international section might be "Food Aid to Niger Increases," while its sports section includes the likes of "Long-distance swimmer conquers Great Lakes."
In other words, not man-bites-dog. More like man-scratches-dog's-tummy.
World-weary journalists may scoff, but Happynews founder and publisher Byron Reese says 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. "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.
Hence, Happynews, whose credo reads: "We believe virtue, goodwill and heroism are hot news. That's why we bring you up-to-the-minute news, geared to lift spirits and inspire lives."
Each day, the site's staff of 10 full- and part-time employees scours news wires and press releases for the good stuff. They also edit contributions from about 100 "citizen journalists" around the world who offer their own upbeat stories.
Not everything on Happynews qualifies as unalloyed happy news, however. "Enrollment up at conservative colleges," for example, might be good news to conservatives and conservative colleges, but try telling that to campus lefties. Similarly, New York Yankee fans might find no joy in this headline: "Manny Ramirez [of the Boston Red Sox] named AL Player of the Week."
Reese concedes that those stories shouldn't have made the cut. As a rule, he says, the site avoids covering sporting events and politics -- or anything likely to create winners and losers. The criteria for a story are threefold: Is it truthful? Is it interesting? Is it something that almost everyone on Happynews's staff can agree is "positive"?
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.