18 Jan 2023

David Byrne's media project strikes cheerful note

From Summer Times, 10:10 am on 18 January 2023

Sometimes it feels like the world is just full of doom and gloom. If it's not the pandemic, then it's the cost of living or the climate crisis. 

Reasons to be Cheerful is a non-profit publication set up by David Byrne of Talking Heads as a tonic for tumultuous times.

David Byrne


The online magazine practises solutions journalism, Will Doig co-editor says.

“Basically, it means reporting on things that are working instead of things that are not.

“And what we mean by working is, not just good ideas, not just happy news, but actual solutions that are out there and have been implemented in the world and are showing evidence of success.”

It all started in 2016 when Byrne started collecting bits of good news and posting them online, he told Summer Times.

“News that made him feel like the world wasn't a complete dumpster fire.”

It took off and Byrne decided to expand on the idea.

“I think he decided maybe more people could benefit from this.

“And so, he hired a small team, myself and a few other people. And we turned it into an online magazine.”

They now publish stories daily. A recent example is about ranchers and conservationists joining forces in the US, he says.

“Some people want to buy a ranch, but they don't have the money.

“Conservationists they might have the funding, but they don't want to have the land used in a way that would degrade it.

“And so, what they do is they strike a deal wherein they lend the ranchers money to buy the ranch, but under fairly strict stipulations that say how you can use it in a way that makes sure that it'll stay pristine for generations to come.”

A global team of freelancers gather the stories, he says.

“Beyond the freelancers, we have a staff of three staff writers who are located in various parts of the world, one in LA, one in Paris and one in Lagos, Nigeria.”

Finding stories is no problem, he says.

“If anything, the more you look, the more you realise that they are just out there. They're just not being reported on.”

As a non-profit, they are free of from the demands of digital advertising and clicks and so a free to report more positive stories.

A membership program funds the enterprise, he says.

“Our readers basically voluntarily support us, it is not a paywall. We don't have any kind of restrictions on who can read Reasons to be Cheerful is indeed for the world.

“But we also have really, really loyal readers, and we've had incredible success just asking people to voluntarily donate.”

It is not an exercise in fluffy, feel-good stories, he says.

“We really only do hire professional journalists. And part of the reason is we want to make sure that this is always rigorous evidence-based journalism, just as serious as you’d read in a newspaper.

"And because we’re founded by a musician, we have a funny name, we want to make sure that people take it seriously. And so that's always a little bit of an uphill battle.

“And so, the way that we make sure that that happens is we ensure that every story we publishes, is serious and rigorous.”

Talking Heads' David Byrne with his editorial initiative Reasons to be Cheerful

Photo: Reasons to be Cheerful