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.