Cornwall Live is “investing in positive news” by launching a Happiness Project with a reporter dedicated to “putting smiles on people’s faces”.
Jacqui Merrington, editor of the Trinity Mirror-owned website, came up with the idea as a response to the “fatigue” people feel from seeing constant bad news on social media, particularly Facebook.
She told Press Gazette: “I feel as though [Facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg’s move towards meaningful social interactions and information from him that they would promote more positive news and more local news was something that we had to react to.
“I also feel as though advertisers want to be associated with a positive brand and a brand that they like.”
Merrington also believes Cornwall Live can build deeper relationships with readers and advertisers through positive content, with which people are “more likely” to engage.
At the start of February, trainee reporter Hannah Maltwood became the newsroom’s happiness correspondent with a remit to “put a smile on people’s faces every day and find audience and engagement in positive, life affirming, meaningful content”.
Although Merrington’s editor-in-chief was supportive, she said the Cornwall Live newsdesk initially looked at her “like I was a bit mad”.
“Everyone knows it’s so much easier to drive audiences through bad news or just breaking news and hard-hitting stuff,” she said.
Now, however, the idea has started to change the way reporters and editors across the newsroom look at stories.
Instead of simply searching for the top hard news line, they also look for people who are making a difference within those stories so they can tackle the big issues for Cornwall from a more positive angle.
Maltwood’s pieces, which are used both in print and online, are already having an impact.
Most notably, a piece about “50 people who make Cornwall a happier place” brought in “huge” numbers of page views and high levels of audience engagement and social sharing.
Smaller articles about snow “angels” who came to the rescue during Storm Emma and the Beast from the East, and community leaders encouraging whole towns to give up single-use plastics, were also well read.
Initially Merrington said it would be a three-month trial but she is already keen to make sure it continues for longer.
“The reaction we’ve had has been really positive so I definitely want to continue with it,” she said.
“I came into journalism because I wanted to change the world – I think everyone does a little bit.
“I obviously can’t change the world but I feel quite strongly that it’s important as journalists to have a positive impact on the community you are covering or the area you are serving so this gives us an opportunity to do that in a small way.”