You and me and the news
Those of us who write and read editorials are an unusual group, likely also the news junkies of our day. Anyone reading this who doesn’t read, listen to, or watch the news daily? Personally, I can’t resist a newspaper on the table, or a radio near news time. (TV I can avoid.) But I wish I could. And you know why: it’s awful.
Not awful in murder and mayhem – that’s not new! -- I mean the news in Canada is compiled and presented awfully. We Canadians are great theoreticians: we live in so many theories. And here we live in one of the biggest, unrealized theories: freedom of the press. We imply that, being “free” our press must be better, more accurate, more fearless, more informative and investigative. Yet five minutes into any news-cast absolutely destroys this theory.
Compare our nation’s newspapers, radio and television news with almost any other non-authoritarian state, and we look insular, smug, naive and childish, as members of a modern nation.
Journalism is my profession and I take it seriously, perhaps naively so. Others, readers of this column, for example, are no doubt more mature in their expectations of our national media. Nevertheless, I find it ridiculous that we have allowed our journalism to become a branch of entertainment. Not the old story of using drama and hysteria to sell newspapers or grab listeners’ attention, but this newer idea that unless we find the report entertaining or emotional, it seems less vital and less important.
If we wish to know why the papers, TV, and radio are losing customers, it’s because these media are failing us in their task; technological changes are only a minor part of the story.
Roughly speaking, our national news is either horrible (in what it reports : religious-inspired terror, multiple murders, disasters, etc) or trivial. Trivial means, “if there are tears and sobbing, put it on!” Is it really news that a mother weeps over the death of her child, that a family is in chaos over a kidnapping, or a youth dies before realizing his/her potential? Why are funerals news? Why are auto crashes news? National news?
And the third type of news today is The Negative. The world makes a deal with Iran over nuclear materials – great news, if there ever was – yet we get interviews with mendacious Republicans in the US & Canada or conservatives in Israel. Our economy is sliding into the tank, and our news is that the Prime Minister wants an attack on Syria, or wherever. Good news does not always make good news, but is it right that we rarely hear good news? Relief for the Belugas in the St Lawrence? Obviously, too good to be newsworthy.
We the public have acquiesced to this trivialization and banalization of our media. And that’s the biggest news of all: we Canadians are blinding ourselves, and yet seem oh-so-proud to be doing so.