Too much information…

I’m on my soap box this week:

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When I compare the world of today with the world my grandmother lived in, the differences are… mega, to use a word she wouldn’t have understood. For one thing, back then people didn’t travel half as much. Granny had a few addresses in Scotland over the course of her eighty-four years, but only once did she venture south of the border. (A short holiday in London in the 1950s). Then there’s the whole globalisation thing – Granny’s generation bought local food, and there was no Swedish furniture around. She would be completely gobsmacked to see the multiculti world that little Oliver, her first great-great-grandchild, was born into.

The biggest difference lies, of course, in communication – and a lot of it is good. Great, in fact. We can text, email and skype with our nearest and dearest, even if they live on the other side of the world. Granny did have a phone when I was little but it was a party line (remember them?!) and I’m not sure what she’d have made of the gadgets which have changed things so much within a single generation. Nowadays there’s a new feeling of solidarity, and it’s worldwide. People help each other in a way that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. Today, if a South African family blogs about their handicapped child, a reader anywhere in the world can easily pass on information or even items that could be of use.

But recently I’ve noticed a trend in news reporting that I for one find disturbing. We all know that news reports often don’t make for jolly reading, but sometimes now I find myself thinking – Why do I need to know that? Two recent examples:

A little girl was sitting on a trampoline in her garden, somewhere in the middle of America, putting her shoes on, when a freak gust of wind blew the trampoline across the garden. The child was killed – completely devastating for the parents, our hearts go out to them; losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to anyone and reading about this makes us ache for the family. But – the trampoline was correctly erected and had a safety net. The accident was no one’s fault, no one could have foreseen or prevented it, and there’s nothing any of us can learn from it except that bad things happen to nice people. So why was this in the UK news, half a world away? What reason did the writer of this piece have for reporting this particular incident?

Then there’s the young man who was killed by a crocodile in Australia. Again, our hearts go out to the family. It was a horrible, ghastly thing to have happened. But why report it at such length here? As a warning? Hardly.

There are so many depressing news items which we should read because they’re important. But I feel that the above examples just don’t come into this category. News shouldn’t be about shocking people and making them feel miserable about freak accidents, and I know that if something like this happened to one of my own family, I wouldn’t want it sensationalised all over the world.

Because that’s what it is. Sensationalism. The articles are written – in my opinion – to shock people, to appeal to our baser instincts, just like writers sometimes do in novels, except these are real people; a real dead child, real grieving families. Why does their grief  have to be made public like this? Have we really sunk so low that news channels put out items like this because people enjoy reading them??? What a terrifying thought.

I don’t know what the answer is, but boy would I love to read more news items that make me feel happy and positive and inspired by my fellow human beings. And with all the new solidarity about, uplifting news items must be possible, surely – or isn’t happiness newsworthy? Well, if it isn’t it should be. Basta, as the Italians say.

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14 Responses to Too much information…

  1. Natasha says:

    We have a phenomenon in Pakistan’s news channel where EVERYTHING is now ‘Breaking News’. They may eventually get over the fact that a politician going to a wedding isn’t breaking news, but this is, in fact, sensationalism at it’s height.

    I feel exactly the way you do about journalism in general – it really feels like it’s only newsworthy if it’s shocking. None of the good stuff ever makes it to the headlines, it’s always an afterthought (and now some good news…).

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    • lindahuber says:

      Exactly – and it’s turning into a never-ending spiral. The more we are ‘shocked’, the more it takes to shock us. I just feel that while neutrality in news reporting might be genuinely difficult to achieve, non-sensationalism IS possible.

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  2. Terry Tyler says:

    Couldn’t agree more, absolutely, you’ve got it spot on. Excellent piece. Unfortunately, there are more brain dead idiots who thrive on the shocking and sensational, than want to read stuff of genuine interest – so there’s you’re answer, News agencies/papers now know that to get most readers/viewers, they must appeal to the lowest common denominator.

    Keep this sort of thing coming – I have something not unrelated to write myself, shortly!

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  3. Jenny Lloyd says:

    Great post. This kind of media reporting only goes to encourage those of a voyeuristic nature. There are some who seem to think they have right to know all the gory or salacious details of other people’s lives regardless of other people’s requests for privacy.

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  4. kazblah says:

    Very true. Another example was the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, when we were told in graphic detail how he died. This was none of our business and no doubt very painful for his family to have that information in the public domain. I’m not suggesting his addiction should have been covered up, given he was so open about it himself, but those kind of details are sensationalist and unnecessary.

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    • lindahuber says:

      That’s a very good point. Celebrities want media attention, but not like that. Another current example is the Oscar Pistorius trial which is being treated like a TV serial.

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  5. Have you read News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton? Excellent book that addresses many of these points. One of my grantwriting jobs at present is at Public Radio International, and I am proud to be associated with a program that still does responsible journalism.

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  6. Pingback: Happiness Isn’t Newsworthy: A Response to Too Much Information | On The Other Hand

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