I read The Sun and The Guardian. The first one I read backwards because I’m only really interested in the sport, the second I don’t even read, at least not the main paper – I just read the sport (again) and the features section, G2.
To be honest, I don’t see the point in finding out what’s going on in the world via the daily press. It’s just one long round of scaremongering after another. To be interesting, news has to have some drama, and drama only comes from negative situations, so that side of every story is scaled up and made out to be much more significant than it really is.
Papers will also print a tonne of pointless conjecture about these stories. As The Black Swan explained, not only are most important occurrences literally unpredictable, the many attempts at prediction are wrong. As a basic example, check out Martin Sorrell’s constant predictions about the recession: L-shaped, bath-shaped, W-shaped, V-shaped, LUV-shaped. He’s pretty much covered all the bases there. My cat might as well have predicted that, and yet Martin’s word is taken as significant wisdom by most of the papers (and their less skeptical readers). But newspapers have space to fill, so they need supposed experts to blather on about which direction the house prices are heading in, whether global warming is real or not and who’s going to win the league.
Talking of winning the league, have you noticed the language they use when it comes to reporting about football? Steven Gerrard will give a ‘war-cry’, Alex Ferguson will ‘taunt’ Rafa Benitez and Cesc Fabregas will ‘vow’ to take revenge on Man City. Then you read the stories and find out that Gerrard said ‘I think we’ve got a good chance against Croatia if we all do our best’; Alex says that he thinks Liverpool might not be as strong without Torres and Cesc will talk about how he hopes to get a better result against Man City than in the corresponding fixture last season. In other words, the papers are trying to make everything seem much more significant than it really is (do you see a pattern forming here? Up the drama, sell the papers. Never mind how much bullshit it all is).
So if the papers are basically presenting everything through a filter of crap, why read them? Well, there’s always that nagging doubt that something is happening in the world that might be making a difference to your own life. But how often does that happen? How has the war in Afghanistan impacted on your everyday existence (assuming you’re not related to a soldier who’s out there, and in that case you’ll hardly need a paper telling you what’s going on)? What about every single aspect of global warming? Barack Obama’s attempts to push universal healthcare through the US government? And let’s not even start with Jordan/Amy/Lily etc. Last week there was a huge story because Kate Moss said ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’. She was vilified for the bad influence that might have on teenage girls, but the phrase originated at Weightwatchers, and no one took them to task for it. More paper-selling crapola.
Anything else? How about hypocrisy? People tend not to say this aloud, but if you’re a kid that goes missing, you’d better hope you’re a pretty white girl. The sad fact is that pictures of Madeleine McCann, Holly, Jessica and Sarah Payne sold papers. Is that because their stories were more tragic than anyone else’s? Have no boys gone missing in the same period? No children from ethnic minorities? I think that might be a bit too much of a coincidence. The sad truth is that these stories made the front pages for days on end because the kids involved were pretty and white (what this says about us as a nation is equally disquieting). But then the very same papers happily published pictures of the girl who played Hermione in Harry Potter as being pretty/attractive from a time when she was about thirteen. ‘Yay!’ they are tacitly saying, ‘We all like underage girls, don’t we?’ When you think about that for more than a second it makes you feel pretty queasy.
So I like to read the sport if I can filter out the hyperbole and I like the features because they’re not about some hysterical angle on some insignificant event (well, some of them are, but you learn to pick and choose). If you take the papers as entertainment, they can work quite well as a way to pass the time, but the extent to which they are taken seriously is really quite disturbing. Let’s not forget that most of them have an agenda that sees them promoting what’s most helpful to Rupert Murdoch, or whichever political party they support.
Despite all this, I don’t feel uninformed or unconnected with the ebb and flow of modern life. This may be because I read Private Eye and watch The Daily Show. Their presentation of the news filtered through the skepticism of comedy seems to me to be far more honest and truthful than that of the other outlets.
Something not quite right there…