News, News, News

I’ve got Joni Mitchell’s line in my head about reading the news (‘and it sure looks bad’) from ‘California‘. In fact I’ve stopped reading the news altogether because my desire to be well-informed is contending with my desire to remain sane, and the latter is more important. But now I’m starting to wonder: does reading the news actually make me well-informed? I’m beginning to have my doubts.

You don’t have to look hard for bias in the news; the print media in the UK is famously overwhelmingly right-wing and objectivity is poorly served by a bunch of expat Tory-donating billionaires. There are exceptions but they are few, and struggling; the Guardian, my paper of choice, has just announced that they are laying off staff, and the Weekend magazine is due to be axed. (I have an article scheduled to come out in that magazine, more of which anon.) But it’s not only political bias which is the problem. There are many other biases in the media, but perhaps the most important one for me right now is the Bad News Bias.

No news is good news – by which I mean, if something good happens it is not deemed to be news. It might feature as a small coda to a bulletin – a bit like the water-skiing budgerigar in Harry Potter which signals that there is no more serious news and he can stop worrying about Voldemort attacking the Muggle world – or it might be a tiny uptick in the general gloomy downward trend, but in general the media works on the principle that bad news is blown up out of all proportion while good news is ignored – or worse, twisted to make it look bad.

This reached a ridiculous point the other week when a story broke about global population. We have been told for decades that a rising global population is not sustainable; that we won’t be able to feed ourselves, let alone look after other species, and that we must have fewer children. Environmentalists including David Attenborough have been warning about this for years. So as soon as global population begins to fall, that’s good news, right? But how did the story go? THREAT OF PLUNGING WORLD POPULATION! DOOM AND GLOOM! WOE, WOE AND THRICE WOE!

Reader, I yelled at the radio. And then I turned it off – and I have not listened to another news bulletin since. I feel much better for it.

So perhaps my need to be informed would be better served by some sort of weekly news magazine? I don’t know – but in the meantime I’m staying away from all forms of so-called news.

Oh, and the article I mentioned above is an interview I gave to the Guardian about being married to someone who comes out as trans – it’s part of a larger article featuring other straight partners. I really hope it comes out before the magazine gets axed. I’ll keep you posted.

Kirk out

Everything In The Garden’s Horrid

This is not about my daffs, which are lovely and yah boo sucks to anyone who doesn’t like them – it’s about the News.  More and more these days I find myself turning the news off after a few minutes.  Why?  Because it’s All Bad.  Yep, as Martyn Lewis has frequently observed:

there’s a definite bias in the media towards negative news and a perception that good-news items are like water-skiing budgerigars, safely left to the funny-bit-at-the-end slot.  Life, says the news agenda, is a grim business and we’d best put a good face on it.  They sound like a mixture of Eeyore the donkey and Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle.  Even when there is a good news story they seem compelled to stick a Dire Warning at the end of it.  If there’s peace then it’s fragile; if there’s a deal it may come unstuck; if there’s an economic recovery it’s precarious – and so on and on.  Otherwise it’s not news.  Peace continues; industrial deal sticks, economic recovery continues – these are not, in themselves, news.  There must be an angle – and that angle is almost always a negative one.

Why?  As Lewis so cogently observes, if journalists are meant to reflect the world, then why are they not reflecting the things that go right as well as the things that go wrong?  I have some sympathy for politicians in this regard.  They can make any number of devastatingly effective speeches; they can pass sound laws and make good decisions, but make one slip-up – underestimate the number of kitchens in your house or get someone’s name wrong or have a blank moment when you’re talking about housing, and the media is on you like hounds on a stray fox.

Martyn Lewis is patron of a paper called Positive News.  You’d think this would be a welcome breath of sweet air in the foul miasma of negativity; however I find it oddly anodyne.  I think the answer is not to have one paper wholly devoted to positive stories, but to reflect those situations where, say, people have overcome huge odds; where they’ve been tempted but haven’t fallen; where they’ve built something amazing or just damn-well got it right.

I rest my case.

Kirk out

The Power of Bad News

Why is it that the news media always accentuate the negative?  Take the weather: in May it was unseasonably hot.  What did we get?  Dire warnings about drought.  Then we had six weeks of rain.  Did they rejoice?  Did they hell – all we got were dire warnings that it would rain until September, be the worst summer ever for crops, etc etc.  And now we’ve had a few days of sun, are they happy?  No – but since they can’t say anything dire, they are silent.  I predict, however, that it will only be a few days before the Bad Weather – that is, the Bad Weather News – crops up again.  It will either be a reprise of the ‘terrible rain’ scenario or something awful to do with the combination of heavy rain and sudden sun.

You just wait.  Oh, actually, you don’t have to.  Because today they are predicting a plague of flying ants.

Whereas what I want is a plague of spiders to eat up all the fruit flies in my kitchen.  They come out of the compost and short of burning joss-sticks I don’t know what to do about them.  We don’t use fly-spray – nasty stuff.

Personally, I’m enjoying the good weather and reminding myself to make the most of it as we don’t know how long it will last.

But as to news: why IS it that the media always focus on the negative?  I think the reasons are two-fold: first, that a constant run of ‘good-news’ stories is the hallmark of a totalitarian state where the media are controlled by the government, and they clearly want to be seen to be democratic: and second, because – as Douglas Adams cleverly spotted, Bad News is a force in itself:

‘Nothing travels faster than light, with the possible exception of Bad News, which follows its own laws.’

Kirk out