At the beginning of this week I put myself on a bit of an experiment to avoid news. The reasons for this were many, but now at the end of my experiment, how was it?
The first thing I noticed is that it is now virtually impossible to avoid news. No matter how much I tried to switch off the car radio on the hour, or avoid newspaper stands, I frequently found I was being stalked by subversive news on-line. I use the internet a lot for my work; just about every webpage has some form of advertising and a link to the news. Snippets were unavoidable, but I forced myself to not read any further, with one exception, the death of Jacintha Saldanha, 46.
Mrs Saldanha was the nurse who answered the hoax call from 2Day FM trying to find out why the Duchess of Cambridge was in hospital. With tragic consequences it looks like she has taken her own life as a result. I can only imagine what her husband and children are going through. The crassness of this prank, and the devastating consequences of it, illustrates the power of the press, and the responsibility the press has to human emotions. It is a real power. Advertisers do not spend hard earned money on media advertising just for fun. They know that getting their message out there via the press is vital to sales.
Away from advertising though, the press really do hold sway and power. In 1997, the general election it was said was won by Labour because The Sun switched allegiance from the Conservatives. But looking further back the human rights campaigner Malcolm X summarised this power in a way I could never hope to do;
“The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
“Because they control the minds of the masses.” He wasn’t being scaremongering. The press really do control what we think, we the masses. Social media is developing this into a higher level of this control. How many people have been destroyed recently by a single tweet or Facebook comment going viral. As humans we are all flawed and make mistakes. At times the press news and social media now resembles the mob at the Bastille, off with their heads, without anyone really standing back and saying – hang on is this right?? We need our press but we do need some form of slow down and think what you’re doing. In days gone by press hacks knew their story, re checked facts and rechecked again before breaking a story. It’s why the press were valued, they got it right. Increasingly they work at such a frenetic pace, they get it wrong, and in doing so, slowly, ever so slowly the mob at the Bastille are making notes.
My second thought based on my experiment this week is that I’ve missed an awful lot of news, but, and it’s a serious but, am I any less well informed? Possibly, although I have gained snippets of news via the aforementioned on-line sites. What I completely missed and forgot was happening was the Chancellors Autumn Statement. Only last night did I hear some analysis of this. Presumably there was endless coverage of this and analysis resplendent with graphs, charts and people in the street saying “how bad it all is”. I just don’t know. I was blissfully unaware it happened while reading my Christmas Edition of Country Life. Am I any worse off not knowing what was said by the Chancellor? Avoiding the news has somehow given me a lot more time to do other things. I knew I’d have a bit more time, but it took me two or three days to appreciate I had all this additional time to read hard copy, and time is something we cannot produce more of.
Most of my days are spent glued to a mobile device or a computer hunting down stories, whilst reading around the news. The very first thing I do in the morning is switch on the blackberry and check Twitter, News sites and half a dozen conservation websites; anything that interests me I send via e-mail to work to look at in more depth. Before going to sleep at night I do exactly the same. Like all media people I’m always looking for that breaking story. This week, in a small way I regained some semblance of reality. I stopped chasing, I had time. I read magazines unopened since they were bought, I read books, I watched birds on the bird feeder for 20 minutes, I cooked, I rang friends, I wrote. One evening after a few phone calls I read a Christmas Ghost Story and then with just candlelight and a whisky sat for half an hour relaxing before bed. I haven’t done that for years.
My sleeping patterns have improved too. Normally I’m awake about 5am, mind buzzing with what’s happening in the news. Must find out, must find out! But this week, 7am was an average wake up time, in-fact yesterday 8am. Today though I returned to 5.30 wake up, as instead of turning over and relaxing, I put the news on the radio, then checked Twitter….. ahh yes, the pattern is developing again. Anything that raises adrenaline levels before bed can cause insomnia and disturbed sleep. Insomnia can be a trigger for depression, depression leads to insomnia. One of these adrenaline causing activities is watching TV, so watching the 10pm news and then heading to bed, potentially could be harmful to mind and soul.
Now all this is just a single persons experiment and thoughts after one week. Many will disagree, and that is healthy. What do I conclude? Well; I’m by no means anti press. I think the power the press have, providing it remains free and regulated is a force for good. Personally I have re-learnt that we (I) do not need to be as informed, re-informed and analysed as we are 24 hours a day 365 days a year. It’s not necessary as most of this blanket coverage of a story is re-hash of old facts. I have probably missed a lot of news but is that such a great loss? I’m more convinced than ever that over populating the airwaves and printed media with non breaking news is depressing the creative and free-thinking soul of the Country. I’ll give you an example.
We’ve been told since 2008 that we’re in recession. It’s everywhere, so everyone has become cautious, worried, what’s the future for our children going to be like. I don’t deny there’s a fiscal problem, especially in Government, but recession is different to not having money. Recession is poor or negative growth of an economy = an economy that needs taxes = more taxes are gathered in times of growth = bigger Government spending. Having briefly studied economics at University, one of the first things we were told was that continuous growth is unsustainable, and fiscal adjustments downwards always follow growth. It’s been a cycle of financial management as long as there’s been money. There are trillions of pounds sloshing about our economy, but we are constantly being told by the press, who feed on the Government, who need the press, its Armageddon waiting in the wings time, one false move and we’ll all be living in cardboard boxes. Absolute poppycock. I certainly have less money than 5 years ago, not having had a pay rise, but so far I’ve not phoned Pickfords for some packing boxes. Have you been to a pub or restaurant lately; can’t get a table because of all the people eating. I was in Wells last Saturday at the market, the place was heaving, and everywhere was really busy. Drive on the roads, they are full of people, seemingly driving new cars. When was the last time you saw an old banger?
My point? Recession is an economic process. Day to day living costs = cashflow. Cash is still flowing, there may be less of it flowing about, but I’m convinced we’re being kept in recession by the Government and Banks repeatedly informing us that we are in recession by the press, because the Government wants locked up savings to be brought into the economic cashflow, because spending cash brings in 20% revenue in the form of VAT and higher business tax if there’s more profit. That’s why people like my parents are getting 1 or 2 % on investments. Better to spend this, it’s going to be worth much less next year you know.
One interesting aspect of my week away from news, was that the news I heard of from friends and colleagues was all about UK stories. Not one person I spoke to mentioned anything from abroad yet most news on TV especially is from abroad. I’ll not try and analyse why only UK news filtered to me by friends, purely this was an observation.
My week has proven to me that I don’t need the news to function, and I do feel a lot more positive about life. But it’s nice to know what is happening as people tend to chat about the news. One looks a right chump when a conversation begins with, “did you see….” And a blank expression reveals, well actually no I was reading an improving book, as Bertie Wooster would say.
News is here to stay and that is no bad thing, but maybe as a society if we all consumed 50% less news, then the art of conversation may return. We may be a more questioning society. We may indulge in more free thinking discussions. Writing based on intellectual thought rather than analysis of news analysis. And that has to be a good thing.
Because, remember what Malcolm X said.