Radio 4 is the soundtrack to my life and I have a daily newspaper delivered so I guess I am a bit of a news junkie. I like to have a rough idea of what’s going on in the world but I have rarely questioned why I need to know this stuff. After I’d had each of my children for a few weeks the rest of the world disappeared in a sleepless haze. A friend from work phoned and was incredulous that I didn’t know Michael Jackson had died three days earlier. Rolling news channels and internet news now means you can be up to the minute with the latest events. But who sets the news agenda? Who decides, with the numerous international happenings, what the great British public should get to know about? Do we really need to know? Is it relevant to our daily lives?
After reading Tom Hodgkinson’s ‘How to Be Free,’ I slavishly tried out all of his ideas to live a good life; one of them was giving up on news. “Newspapers set out to provide entertainment and gossip, stories that feed our need for shock and horror. They do it well. Flick through the Daily Mail on any given day and you’ll find that nine out of ten stories are negative and unsettling. Every radio bulletin and every TV news show, every newspaper and many of our daily conversations drive home the same message: worry, worry, worry.” There is a lot of truth in this for sure; learning of all the misery and horror in the world, but being powerless to do anything to change it, is very depressing. Nevertheless, my spell at following Tom’s news-avoidance advice lasted about a month. I was inexorably drawn back in; the news somehow binds us, gives us something to discuss, makes us feel a part of something bigger. And perhaps in some ways we enjoy the stream of bad news, we can then moan about the state of the country to our neighbour over the garden fence, or try to put the world to rights with our mates down the pub.
The Guardian at the weekend bravely featured an article on why the news is bad for you. There were many reasons given to avoid the news was that it inhibits thinking. Thinking requires concentration which requires time but “newspieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses designed to steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers…news severely affects memory.” It also apparently makes us passive and kills creativity. I still think though that news in moderation is OK. The trouble is that we are saturated by news, some sources are unreliable, most have their own agenda and much of what we hear or read (even, I suspect, from the BBC) is simple propaganda.There is so much information online you have to be extremely selective. I find it annoying when even a news story in a supposedly quality paper includes what people are saying on Twitter or Facebook as if this has any relevance. It makes me realise that it is true that people confuse what they read in newspapers with news.