BOB GARFIELD: I have the most wonderful news, and it's not this. (NEWS BULLETIN-LIKE MUSIC/SOUNDS)
REPORTER: Tonight the only known survivor of an attack by the BTK serial killer.
REPORTER: His sister was murdered, but he got away.
REPORTER: Terrorist cells in America. We knew they were here.
REPORTER: Plus, hundreds of thousands of married men and married women logging onto a website for cheaters, a web of deceit.
BOB GARFIELD: That totally harshed my mellow, man! That's the aggravating thing about the news. It's so freakin' depressing! My fifth grade teacher Ms. Cooper used to say that newspapers should devote a day to printing only good news, uplifting stuff about good deeds and kitty cats rescued from trees and schools opened in Iraq. I shared this scheme with my mom, who rolled her eyes and said Ms. Cooper should stick to teaching arithmetic and beating the ADD kids with her ruler. But lo and behold, four decades later, someone has realized Ms. Cooper's fondest dream. Happynews.com forsakes war and famine, terror and man's inhumanity to man 24/7. Byron Reese is the publisher, and he joins me now. Byron, welcome to OTM.
BYRON REESE: Hi.
BOB GARFIELD: Give me an example of the kind of story that shows up on happynews.com.
BYRON REESE: You'll see a lot of the same categories as you would on a conventional news site. There's international stories, national news, local news, sports, entertainment. And we just try to focus on the stories that are positive and upbeat. I think today there's a story about a man in New York who caught a six year old child who was falling off the third floor balcony. We cover a peace march in Israel, an 89 year old man who's biking for a cure for multiple sclerosis.
BOB GARFIELD: The other top stories are free flights Thursday on Asiana Airlines, England spent seven million dollars to move dead bugs, and al Qaeda leader killed. Now that's interesting because while I suppose it's good news in the war against terror, it's kind of a grim scenario. Does the death of a terrorist leader really fit into your overall scheme of not confronting readers with the grim realities of the world we live in?
BYRON REESE: The site's purpose isn't to insulate people from the bad that goes on in the world. Obviously, there's a lot of good and bad news that you need to know about. But to answer your question, yes, there's always a lively debate around the newsroom about what kinds of stories qualify for happy news. And that one, of course, engendered a certain amount of debate. Somebody pointed out, you know, if Hitler had died we certainly would run that. I mean, it would be a great story any way you look at it. I guess we believe that al Qaeda, who targets civilian targets, that any decrease in their ability is good news. But there's no such thing as the perfectly good news story that everybody in the entire world sees as unquestionably good news. The rule around the office is that 95 percent of the people in our readership would perceive it as good news.
BOB GARFIELD: I'm curious, considering almost by definition most news is bad news, where do you find (LAUGHS) all the good news?
BYRON REESE: That's an interesting assertion, that most news is bad news. And I would question it. It really boils down to the question of what is news. And I would say news should give you an accurate portrayal of the world around you. There's an interesting graph recently put out by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, and it showed the incidents of murder in the 1990s in the U.S, that every year it's been falling. But it also graphed it with the three networks' coverage of murders every year. And they rise every year, so that you're getting safer and safer every year but media is training you to be more and more scared every year.
BOB GARFIELD: The headline "Byron Reese Walks Down the Street, Is Not Struck by Falling Piano" is never going to show up in a newspaper because that's the norm. The news is, generally speaking, that which is not the norm. So if you get hit by a falling piano, I got to say it's bad news but it's a pretty good story.
BOB GARFIELD: But let me just tell you two scenarios. You know, one would be a woman who drowns her children in a bathtub someplace in the country, and another one about a woman who runs into a burning building to save somebody's children. I mean, both of those are equally out of the norm, right? Or they're both news, but one of them is going to get a huge disproportionate amount of coverage. Our biggest asset in finding happy news stories are our citizen journalists. And what they are, are people all over the world who are kind of our eyes and our ears on the street. So you should see a plethora of stories on the site that aren't covered anywhere else because they just never rise to the attention of traditional media.
BOB GARFIELD: Do you find yourself getting flacked by people who have, let's just say, image problems? I'm thinking, for example, of the Pentagon, who realized that, you know, here's an opportunity to, to tell a story outside the boundaries of the mainstream media and maybe for once manage perceptions by speaking to happynews.com.
BYRON REESE: We're never going to be a mouthpiece for some organization to further their portrayal of the world. We have traditional journalists on staff who subject their stories to the same kind of objective journalistic scrutiny that other news organizations use. I mean, we see all the same press releases everybody else does. And, you're right. 90 percent of them are their spin on things. We never spin the news. We never take a story and say, okay, how can we make this not sound as bad as it is? You know, on 9/11 we wouldn't have said, you know, 3,000 buildings in New York untouched by aircraft because that would have been a disservice to the truth behind the story.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Byron, I --what else can I say? I'm, I'm very happy to have spoken to you.
BYRON REESE: Well, thank you very much. I'm happy as well.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Byron Reese is the publisher of happynews.com. [MUSIC UP AND OVER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, the music industry cares deeply about piracy, except when it doesn't. And one soldier's hip hop experience in Sadr City.