Web Site Offers Only Good News

Carrie Rodgers is so engrossed by cable-television news shows that her husband calls her a news addict, but lately she has found another source to balance the onslaught of stories about war, crime and natural disasters.

Two or three times a day, the 28-year-old insurance agent in Columbia, S.C., turns to a Web site called HappyNews.com.

She often clicks first to a section called "Heroes," which recently featured stories about U.S. troops rescuing two cheetah cubs in Ethiopia and the induction of 12 people into the Hall of Fame for Caring Americans.

"There's so much going on in the world that is so sad," Rodgers said. "You can go anywhere and find depressing news. I'm glad somebody has stepped up and shown there are still good people in the world."

HappyNews is the brainchild of Byron Reese, chief executive of Austin, Texas-based PageWise Inc., which publishes several how-to and advice Web sites. He decided the world needed a refuge from all the unpleasantness served up by newspapers and television news shows, so he launched HappyNews in July.

"This is asking the question, what is news?" Reese said. "News is supposed to give you a view of the world. The news media, the way it has evolved, gives you a distorted view of the world by exaggerating bad news, misery and despair. We're trying to balance out the scale."

On Dec. 2, The New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times Web sites led with news that 10 U.S. Marines in Iraq had been killed by a bomb, the deadliest attack against American troops there since August.

HappyNews went with "Emily, the stowaway cat, is coming home," about a Wisconsin tabby that got stuck in a cargo container and wound up in France.

Other lead stories on HappyNews recently included: "Man decks house with synchronized lights," and "Washington grape growers reap record harvest."

Some items come from The Associated Press, which HappyNews added last month. Others are rewritten from press releases or come from 150 "citizen journalists," who must follow standards for fairness, accuracy, spelling and grammar, and provide sources so HappyNews can fact-check their stories.

Editor Patricia Meyer and a small staff select about 40 items to post on the site each day. They reject any story that may draw objections from more than 5 percent of their estimated 100,000 regular readers.

Almost all political stories are rejected. Coverage of the war in Iraq has been limited to things such as Marines celebrating Thanksgiving and volunteers sending teddy bears to Iraqi children.

The 30,000 jobs cut by General Motors Corp. last month? You won't read it in HappyNews, but stories about hiring are welcome. Even sports stories are mostly out of bounds, "because one team wins and one team loses," Reese explained.

The staff favors stories about health, science, the arts and heroes. A new section called HappyLiving offers tips on everything from barbecuing to finding a baby sitter.

The mainstream media has struggled for years with balancing hard news, seen as more important, and softer feature stories. Surveys have shown that many readers want more good news, and newspapers and television have responded by offering more entertainment and celebrity coverage, said Tommy Thomason, director of the journalism school at Texas Christian University.

"Unfortunately, the events we need to respond to as informed citizens are not good," Thomason said. "If you know all about synchronized Christmas lights, that won't help you be informed when you're voting on the people who will lead the country."

Advertisers have been slow to find HappyNews. The only paid ads are mostly unobtrusive Google links on each page. Without divulging figures, Reese acknowledged the site is losing money, but he expressed confidence that eventually it will turn a profit.

As far as readers, Reese said there is no clear geographic pattern — it doesn't appear that one part of the country likes happy news more than others do — but about 60 percent of the readers are women.

The company also says it doesn't actively market the site. Carrie Rodgers can't recall exactly how she heard about it a few months ago, but now she sends friends free HappyNews bumper stickers.

Sam Stapp, a security officer in Louisville, Ky., stumbled across it while Web surfing a few weeks ago. He enjoyed the story about the Marines' Thanksgiving observation and was appalled by the mainstream media's heavy coverage of the 10 Marines killed in one attack this month.

"It's strongly tilted negative," he said of the mainstream media. "They won't tell you what those same 10 Marines were doing that helped the Iraqi people because nobody cares about that. I'm just sick of it."