The Magazine

The Good News Girl

Jan 15, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 17 • By MATT LABASH
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When I was a college twerp, surrounded by my college-twerp friends, we sat around like Gambino-family capos, deciding how to carve up the kingdom. They resolved to put their marketing majors to work in the captain-of-industry perches that were their birthrights, taking what was theirs as assistant popcorn-butter melters at the dollar theater, or salad-bar sneeze-guard cleaners down at Applebee's--at least until their screenplays sold.

Me, I decided to go where the news was, or at least where it could be manufactured, and became a journalist. Not because I thought a democracy flourishes only with a well-informed citizenry. Rather, I was keenly aware that most news is bad news, and I enjoy bringing bad news to people. It makes me feel alive.

As a tyke, I'd coax my toddler sister into throwing our dad's toiletries in the commode and flushing them, causing an overflow. Then I'd report back to our parents. It's not that I thought the undeserved spanking she'd receive was hilarious, though of course it was. I just enjoyed the theatrics, the tension, the story arc. I needed to have something urgent and dramatic to relate to the folks. But I was only six. Telling them we were running low on Capri Suns just didn't scratch that itch.

This character deficiency is shared by a large segment of our profession. Perhaps because of it, studies regularly show that in popularity contests, journalists' numbers hover around those of puppy poachers, al Qaeda cell leaders, and Republican congressmen. But it was only a matter of time before one of our own swam against the tide and struck a blow for decency. That somebody is Daryn Kagan, who has started the eponymous good-news website, DarynKagan.com.

Kagan was a CNN anchor before the suits decided to go in another direction since they already had a pretty face to attract male viewers (Anderson Cooper). But Kagan had had her fill of war, famine, and pestilence stories anyway. She now strives to accentuate the positive, celebrating the triumph of the human and animal spirit. On her webcasts, she sits casually on the floor in front of a roaring fire, announcing inspirational stories from categories with kindergarten-teacher-like names: "Today we are dipping into the Love Bucket," or the "End of the Rainbow Bucket." Her aim is to "show the world what's possible." She herself proved that anything is possible when the comely news reader let the galootish Rush Limbaugh date her in public (Gross Bucket).

There are all kinds of feel-good stories on DarynKagan.com. You can read about "Henry the Amazing 3-legged Cat" (Kagan has a three-legged cat of her own, which she says captures chipmunks and her heart), or "Ozzie the Hero Dog," the Airedale terrier who kept his owner from getting hit by a car, though Ozzie wasn't so lucky. Then there's the tale of a woman who was inspired by Oprah to show thanks for her good fortune by "paying it forward" and giving away her tea shop. When she took applications to see who the lucky winner would be, she got "tea-riffic responses!"

If you really want to be featured on DarynKagan.com, it helps to have cancer, though any incapacitating disease or malady will do: cerebral palsy, juvenile diabetes, even urinary tract infections. A typical title for a story, such as one on a very special triathlete: "No legs. No problem."

There's the 13-year-old who started the comic book series about Omega Boy and the evil Dr. Diabetes. Then there's the wheelchair-bound trumpet player for the Louis ville Cardinals marching band who was born without eyes. He's not to be outdone by the woman who was hit in the head by a roll of carpet falling off an overhead rack. She didn't let her mild brain injury and fibromyalgia stop her from planting 10,000 lavender plants to start a line of aromatherapy and comfort products. She likes to say she had the "scents" knocked into her.

Sure, watching a man who had his skull crushed by doctors during childbirth paint with his nose is inspiring. But it's also a little depressing. After enough of these stories, I was yearning for a quick pick-me-up: a sex scandal, a natural disaster, genocide, anything.

Daryn does warn us that this isn't just happy news, it's "hopeful news." And it did leave me hopeful: hopeful that I don't contract Lou Gehrig's disease and find myself stenciling birdhouses with my eyelashes for the sake of injured chimney swifts, and finally ending up as fodder on DarynKagan.com.

MATT LABASH