In defence of news: why we shouldn’t give up on current affairs

NC NewsflashDoes Rolf Dobelli think everyone in the world is a mindless idiot? His Guardian article certainly seems to think so. I’d like to think that I’m a fairly moderate and open mind, and as such, it’s unlikely that I will read something that I strongly disagree with. However, within a few moments of opening up this article, I was sure a detailed response needed to be written, in defence of news.

Define ‘news’

The first overwhelming error Dobelli makes is lumping all news together as one entity. News has no one single meaning, and contrary to existing as one specific item, news is a combination. A combination of mediums, of authors, of viewpoints and of facts. The media frames its content, and it is naïve to group all items of news together. Are all MPs fiddling their expenses? Do all journalists hack phones? Of course not.

It is also narrow minded to refer to news as simple ‘small bites of trivial matter’. ‘News is easy to digest’. I consider The Economist a reliable and accurate source of news. Since when was that easy to digest? News can vary; anything from a 60 second news report to an hour long radio feature can be considered news. It seems Mr Dobelli is only reading the headlines of the front pages, and seems surprised that they offer little value to his life. News tells the main facts and gives analysis; take the time to engage in it and it will give you far more satisfaction and information.

News can have a positive impact on our lives: it’s not irrelevant

I fail to see how learning about what is going on in the world is irrelevant to us. Mr Dobelli may be perfectly content in his little bubble outside of the real world, but it’s exactly that: not the real world.

By discovering more about the Australian government’s elections or a middle eastern conflict, this can engage us in a wider community of people, outside our local libraries. We are small people in a big world, and engaging with everything there is to engage with out there gives us, firstly, a sense of perspective, and involvement in a bigger picture. It is easy to take for granted the modern day luxuries we hold dear to us here, and forget that not everyone has the same opportunities we do.

For many, this inspires us to go and do something about it. Whether that is volunteering for a homeless charity over the holidays after reading about the increases in cost of living, or avoiding a certain food as it has been linked to poor health; news can positively impact our lives and make us adapt our behaviour accordingly.

Not all news is bad news

Another assumption from the article implies that all news is bad news. Cat stuck in tree. Car crashes into river. Thousands die in volcanic eruption. Of course, these are interesting stories, which we want to hear about, purely for the reason they are out of the ordinary. Whether it be growth in the economy or an inspiring story of strength from the London marathon, every day features some positive news stories which don’t make us want to cry our hearts out after the 10 o’clock news every night.

News can inspire creativity

For anyone who thinks that journalism is not a creative industry, simply look at the intense developments to the media that have occurred in the last few hundred. News began with pamphlets and basic printing, and moved on to periodicals, magazines television broadcasts, in depth current affairs shows, imaginative websites and creative social media and storytelling techniques never previously imagined.

Story-telling is an art-form, and news falls into this activity too. It takes a creative mind to present a story (especially an important but dull one) in a way that is appealing for the reader, and to keep them engaged without switching over to another news broadcast, or picking up another newspaper. Everything about the media must be visually appealing, from the front page, to the video-framing of a broadcast interview. Everything must be made personal, relatable and interesting. Without this, the reader’s attention is lost, and readership will plummet as audiences move elsewhere to more engaging and exciting news providers.

News explains the wider world and can help our knowledge grow

Knowledge is power, someone famous once said. I could spend my life reading well-known philosophers, scouring over scientific studies, and pouring over literary and history books, and it is highly likely that I would be a lot more intelligent, and perhaps a bit wiser. I would be a fool, however, if I could not apply that knowledge to the real world, because without that applicability, that information is useless.

News helps inform us about what is happening around us, in our communities, our countries, and all over the world. Someone who doesn’t engage in the news is missing out on that crucial skill of adaptability; knowledge is not static, and neither is the world. Everything is moving and changing at a radical pace, and we must move with it. Only by knowing the latest news from around the world can we engage with and better be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead, and come up with better ways to overcome them.

News encourages opinion, and critical thinking:

Dobelli states that ‘we are not rational enough to be exposed to the press.’ Firstly, Mr Dobelli: the world would like to announce that they are not idiots. Alright, some are, but the majority of us are not. The majority of the population do not absent-mindedly read the news and think that terrorists are going to attack us every day, stress and heart disease will kill us all and all bankers are scheming nasties who fiddle with the numbers.

Most of us have enough prior knowledge of the world to know not to trust everything we read, and certainly not to take it at face value. Knowledge is a collaboration of numerous bits of information that we engage with from a variety of sources, and when we engage with the news, we use our prior knowledge to analyse whether this new bit fits in or not. To say that we only engage and absorb information that fits in with our values and beliefs is not only insulting, but simply untrue.

We are all different, and we all think differently about the world around us. It is important to engage in the news, because it encourages this formation of opinion and critical thinking. For a broad example, news about tax rises for the rich to improve public services would perhaps be welcome news for a young single mother who relies heavily on healthcare. On the other hand, an older, wealthier gentlemen might resent the state taking away his hard-earned cash to spend on someone who doesn’t work, when he can afford his own private healthcare anyway. Every story has two sides, and the world would be a very dull place if we all agreed on everything. News teases out these opinions and interpretations, and adds to current affairs and debate surrounding important issues in our society.

The only solution? Pfft.

I may just be a young, simple student journalist mindlessly consuming news, feeding on the negativity that society has to offer. But if I am, Rolf Dobelli is an old, disillusioned old fart who is trying to pinpoint his ill feelings on the nearest thing he can, which today happens to be news.

Society does need journalism, investigative and otherwise. It provides entertainment and information that provokes us to think, form our own opinions and to challenge perceptions of the world as portrayed by the BBC and The Telegraph; this can only be a good thing.

Dobelli hails the only solution to this problem is to cut ourselves ‘off from news consumption entirely’. While the article makes some reasonable points about the addictiveness and sometimes intense negativity of news, the answer is not all or nothing. News, like everything in life, from sugary foods to trashy television, is best enjoyed in moderation.

Originally published (edited) on Wannabe Hacks here.

Photo: Newsflash

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