I blogged earlier this week about the way the news has escaped from its bulletin-boundaries, and is now not just available on tap, but spurts out everywhere like a burst water main (sewage pipe?).
The strange thing is, though, that this explosion of news has not, I would say, improved the quality of the news we receive, but rather the opposite.
The pressure to report something, anything, and not to miss the very small news window before the story goes stale has led to all sorts of inaccuracies being repeated. My favourite example of this was the night I told my sister that George Best was dead as she came to say goodnight; in the morning, she was rather put out to find that Georgie was still hanging on. Reports of his death had been much exaggerated or, to give it its proper title, ‘Sky-news-reported’.
It’s not just inaccuracies that creep in. As the pressure to fill the hours has led to a proliferation of reports, comments, observations – well there’s a lot of filler. And the filler starts to muddy the waters – not just about what’s important, but more significantly, about what the pogging hell is going on in the world.
The world is a very complicated place – it always has been. It’s in our nature as human beings to seek to make sense of things that are basically inexplicable. In the olden days the world was more confusing – Why is that hill erupting? Why do the stars move around in the sky? What the DICKENS was that loud noise? Why hasn’t Google been invented so I can answer these questions?
But back then the answer was also more simple. Very simple indeed really:
BECAUSE = GOD.
God had decided, either to act all by Himself or to leave things in the hands of the Chief or the King or the Holy Man.
In this ‘enlightened’ 21st century Western World we have gained a great deal but we have lost a great deal too. Certainty for a start, as well as way of looking at the world which wouldn’t leave us confused and anxious. He hasn’t, it turns out, got the whole world in his hands. We are teetering about in the universe all by ourselves. No-one’s in charge you say? No wonder we’re edgy.
Instead, for those of us in the Western World who aren’t content to put our lives and all the things in the world in the hands of God, well what are we left with? Trying to make sense of the inexplicable with frankly little to no hope of success.
Not only that, but a greater volume of reporting harms our understanding of the world by making us feel confused and perhaps even distressed. Take for example the Syrian chemical attack this week. A great deal of distressing footage is available of these attacks, but at the time of writing this blog, according to the most reliable news reports, it isn’t at all certain whether these attacks took place at all.
And even if the footage wasn’t faked, then it isn’t clear whether these were chemical weapons, of what kind, and when or where the attack took place, let alone who carried it out:
Even if we are reasonably sure what has happened in a particular situation, explanations and actions are equally hard to pin down. Like who’s to blame for the 20o8 worldwide financial crisis – Blair, Brown, Bush, Thatcher, Clinton – who? Or the bankers? And what did they do, exactly? Was it benefit scroungers, the feckless youth, the EU,the French, the Spanish, the Greeks, the geeks, or WAS IT THE GERMANS AGAIN? Are you sure????
What about this week’s GCSE results – why are exam results down this year? Are exams getting easier or harder or are students working harder or less hard or WHAT IS GOING ON?
I can guarantee you have heard, seen or read acres of what we used to call ‘newsprint’ about these news stories. We don’t lack information; if anything we have too much, but it gets harder and harder to pick our way through it all to reach any firm conclusion. We get bogged down by the complexities and exhausted by our lack of power not only to understand but moreover to have any impact on the issues of the day.
I know I know – it all seems like a bit of a cop out. Just because it’s depressing, just because it’s difficult to understand doesn’t let you off the hook. We all have a responsibility to try, to be engaged, to CARE, right? Well yes, and there are countless examples of individuals making a difference.
I am not suggesting that you stop listening to the news. Or stop trying to be informed about what is happening locally or globally. I guess what I am saying is that it is OK, maybe even the right thing to do, to conclude that you are unsure about what you think sometimes. Not because you don’t have enough information, but because you can’t be certain. That the issues are finely balanced, and sometimes you can just turn off the latest report about the latest seemingly insoluble, hellishly complicated situation, and do something else instead.
So here are some of my suggestions for some other ways to get your news; ways that won’t make you any more or less well-informed, but might just act as an antidote to the slew of painful images and words that are funnelled into your brain every minute of every day:
- Subscribe to Farming Online – not only will you get the most incredibly accurate weather news, you will also get to hear a lot about winter barley yields, and the truth of what’s behind JB Diego’s strange ears this year. (It’s a wheat thing.)
- Go down to the pub and start talking to people there. If you don’t have a local, you have my every sympathy, but try the allotments instead. If you go tomorrow, you might even get some courgettes; I can barely step out of the door this week without people thrusting courgettes in my handbag.
- Go onto the BBC website and change your home location to somewhere else, somewhere a little gentler, where the news won’t make you want to drink yourself into a stupor. Mine was set to Very Welsh Wales for a while, which involved lots of news about surf and high lifeboat demand; more recently I have swapped to Ullapool, where today an escaped pig caused some very significant delays on the A82.
And that, you can be reasonably sure, is the certain truth.
Here’s my friend’s take on the rolling news phenomenon: