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

Good News is No News (2)

When you’ve been writing a blog for as long as I have you can’t help the same titles coming up again and since WordPress fails to inform me of the fact I did my own search and found this post on the London Olympics which contains the immortal line, ‘You can’t ruin the same duvet cover twice.’  Well with the hindsight of seven years I’m not so sure: I managed to create a large black blot in the shape of Ireland simply by leaving a felt writing pen on the bed.  But this is all by the by.  Right now bad news seems to be everywhere, both nationally and globally and what with knife crime, sexual assault, plane crashes and global warming it’s hard to find even one bit of good news.  But there’s a reason for that, as this Stephen Pinker article points out – bad news travels faster than anything.  (Actually I think that was Douglas Adams who invented a spaceship powered by bad news.)

The Pinker article below suggests that things are not as bad as they seem; in fact many negative phenomena are on the decline.

I am recovering slowly from this post-viral fatigue but still not good.  Frankly I feel like a plant that’s had all its sap removed.

Kirk out

Good News is No News

It has probably not escaped your attention that the news nowadays is unrelievedly gloomy.  Douglas Adams spotted this decades ago when he invented a spaceship powered by Bad News, since this travelled faster than light:

At Quaker meeting this morning a Friend spoke of rationing their intake of news: later on another Friend spoke of the wisdom of avoiding news bulletins first thing in the morning or last thing at night: because in the morning it colours your day at a time when you’re just waking up, and late at night it affects your sleep.  Midday is considered to be the best time: and whilst that doesn’t work for me as I’m otherwise engaged, I do generally allow an hour for waking before I put on the headlines.  I listen to the main news at six, though I usually find myself switching it off and turning to some joyous music on radio 2 instead – because what I hear generally causes me to feel either angry or depressed, neither of which is good for me.

Of course it’s important to keep up with what’s going on – but there’s a question as to how far the mainstream news actually informs us about real-life events.  There is a bias in everything; and as Owen Jones points out in his book ‘The Establishment’, at the moment it is a pro-business and (god help us) a relentlessly anti-Corbyn bias.  This can be seen in the BBC as well as most newspapers.

I could have a rant about political bias, but what concerns me most right now is the bias towards the negative.  As I said in the post about drama, happiness is considered dull: only misery, it seems, makes good news.  So that even when a positive item makes it onto the agenda, it is usually qualified by doubts about how long it will continue – doubts which are never expressed, say, about a war or an economic crisis.

I don’t think this is necessarily conscious and deliberate: the news outlets may even be unaware that they are doing it.  They may simply think that this is what news is: good news is no news.  But it means that our vision of the world – as we see it through these outlets – is overwhelmingly biased towards the negative; and (which should concern them more) it means that people like me are reaching more and more for the off-switch.

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

I’m Struggling Here

Well, it’s day three of the Lenten ‘no bad news’ challenge, and I’m finding it a bit of a struggle.  I keep feeling the urge to go on Facebook or put radio 4 on: whilst there are some fun programmes on 4 extra they do tend to crop up again and again.  I’d heard today’s episode of Steptoe and Son twice already and then they repeated it this evening as well – just in case we hadn’t heard it the first two times.  Which I had.

On the other hand, my mood is an awful lot brighter for cutting out all the gloom; I no longer find myself despairing about the future of the world, worrying about my own future, feeling angry, frustrated and depressed by turns, all about situations I can’t change.  So that is good.

So, to report the kind of news I am allowed to listen to, I note the return of H2G2 from next week. If you don’t know what H2G2 is, then you must be a Vogon who doesn’t know where his towel is, that’s all I have to say.

Kirk out

PS And don’t forget – if you want to comment you have to do it on here, not on Facebook!  This means you, Katherine Gilchrist!


Oh, No! It’s More Serious Than We Thought!

Yes, folks – the weather is so serious that it has necessitated a Topical Insert on the Archers!  You can’t get more serious than that… seriously, though, I am trying to spare thoughts for those who are flooded out.  I can’t begin to imagine how miserable that is, especially with little hope of improvement in the immediate future.  It has also brought out some vitriol on social media about the pros and cons of climate change.  Yes, there are still some deniers out there, although most people now accept that man-made climate change is a reality – or at the very least, a strong and serious probability.  My own view is this: though we may never be able to be 100% certain as to the causes, while we are continuing to do things that could contribute to it – and logically ought to contribute to it, such as deforestation, burning fossil fuels etc – we ought to take it seriously and stop doing those things as far as possible.  That’s a fairly moderate view, I’d have thought, but you wouldn’t believe the vitriol some people are capable of when ‘discussing’ the issue.  So I’ve reached a decision.  Lent’s coming up – and since I don’t overindulge in many things, I’ve decided to leave the chocolates and alcohol to take care of themselves; and for this year, I’m giving up Bad News.

Yep, that’s right: bad news.  There’s far too much of it out there.  It’s not only Facebook, it’s the mainstream media as well who focus on the negative whilst giving any positive news short shrift.  I don’t know why this should be, but it gives us a very skewed version of the world.  Every Third-World country is overrun by corruption and famine; every housing estate is sunk in crime and unemployment; every marriage is on the verge of break-up; every film-star is dysfunctional – and so on.

Not true!

So for the duration of Lent, which starts on March 5th, I will be swearing off mainstream news, de-activating my Facebook account and using the radio only for music.

You have been warned!

Oh, and I almost forgot – yesterday my review of the short story collection ‘Ideas Above our Station’ was published by Thresholds;

Now back to the weather…

Kirk out

Six Unpalateable Things Before Breakfast

I retired early last night with a horrible headache and woke at 4.30 in a grump.  Dozed again and woke in a fairly fragile good mood.  Now, when your good mood is fragile, it is not a very sensible idea to listen to the news: this morning in the headlines there were no less than six separate items of gloom financial news, to do with benefit cuts, price rises, government contracts and spending restrictions.  By the time I’d run the gauntlet of all these my mood had fractured and I felt thoroughly depressed.  So, here are my six top tips for dealing with depression:

1.  Severely ration your intake of news.  The news is almost exclusively gloomy and composed almost 100% of Things You Can Do Nothing About.  This is not to say that we can never do anything, nor to excuse us from doing the little we can, but an attempt to deal with the welter of issues we hear about on a daily basis, can only result in exhaustion and frustration.  It’s hardly likely you will miss anything important by not listening to the news, so if you’re feeling down, resolve to catch up on it later when you feel better.  Let’s face it, you don’t need to hear the same headlines five times a day.

2.  Energise!  Do something to get the circulation going – walk briskly or jog or dance or prance or do some opening yoga postures….


3.  breathe!  Breath is our primary source of energy, so use it to the full.  Sit tall and breathe from the bottom of your lungs, using the abdominal muscles.

4.  Smile.  You know, stuff about endorphins, blah blah blah.  Better still…

5.  Laugh!  Find something on the TV or radio or in the paper that makes you laugh.

6.  Listen to very high music.  I mean musically high, with high notes.  This induces a feeling of exaltation.  Like this:

I shall be doing all these things today.  Plus, reminding myself of all the good stuff that’s happening.

Kirk out

Expecting the Unexpected…

That’s kind of a paradox of course, because if you’re expecting something then it’s not unexpected.  It’s like that ‘dead space for the unexpected’ that executives used to build into their schedules: whilst that’s a good idea in principle, in actuality the unexpected is unlikely to fill that dead space: either it won’t happen at all or it’ll take up far longer than the half-hour you’ve scheduled for it.  The plain fact is, you can’t plan for the unexpected, because it’s – well, unexpected.

Mark has snatched triumph from disaster though by leaving a ‘dead space’ in his book, ‘Here be Dragons’ where pictures should have gone if he’d got it together in time – and inviting readers to send in their own pictures to fill the spaces.  So that’s a creative solution to the problem…

I have one unexpected and one expected thing to do today and they’re both unpleasant.  The first is to phone the dentist as an entire filling fell out yesterday, leaving a very sharp-edged tooth in the upper-right quadrant: the second is to get the figures ready so I can do my tax return on Wednesday.  The unpleasantness of the first is easily explained, but the second is not so clear.  It’s not doing the figures in itself; nor is it filling in the form per se: there’s a whole layer of dread which spreads over the experience and is invoked at any moment by the mention of the word ‘tax’.  Plus, I don’t like it that the program instantly calculates the tax you owe.  I want a decent period of grace and at the very least a good lie-down, before I learn how much of my meagre and hard-earned dosh I have to part with.  I think the layer of dread is due to the feeling of Being Inspected: it must be something akin to what teachers feel when being Ofstood (or whatever).

Though news items in themselves can be unexpected, you generally know what kind of thing to expect when you turn on the news.  It will be almost 100% bad.  Now, why is this?  Is it that good news is boring?  Hell, no!  The media tend to talk about Good News as if it’s the mere absence of something bad happening (cars drive and fail to crash; volcano doesn’t erupt – that sort of thing.)  Not so.  By just hearing the negative stuff, we get only one side of the news – whereas I want to know, say, what’s been happening in the former Yugoslavia since all that stuff in the 1980’s – or what life is like in Scandinavian countries and how it differs from where we are.  But that is perceived as ‘nothing happening’.  I’m interested in the world and all its people all the time, not just when there’s a war or a famine.  Giving us the crisis does not allow us to see the context, the build-up – let alone the aftermath.  But the media circus arrives and moves on.  It’s not that we only get one half of what’s going on – the truth is, we only get one-tenth of it.  If that.  It’s like having a friend who you only see when they have a crisis.  You only see their problems and never get to hang out and just have a natter about life.

Hmm.  Come to think of it, I’ve had friends like that… I’ve also had friends who are only around when you’ve got a problem.  This is a more interesting phenomenon: genuinely concerned and helpful though these people are – at your side in a crisis, there for you every step of the way – they nonetheless melt away and are nowhere to be seen once you’re better.  Mark and I call them ‘foul-weather friends’.

Now that’s unexpected…

Kirk out

PS my poem at church went down a storm and I gave out loads of bookmarks publicising the e-book.