I never watch the news on television, rarely read the”news” content of even the broadsheet newspapers and use BBC Radio 4 wholly for its non-current affairs content. I do catch the brief bulletins on 6Music, though even those I will use to do something noisy or away from my radio.
I will not deny that I do this to ensure that I can live a happier life, though not perhaps for the reason you might first imagine. I avoid the news not to escape the many horrors which blight this planet, so many caused by members of my own species, but in an attempt to keep my blood pressure within reasonable limits.
Almost all soi-disant news falls into one of the following categories:
- pointless speculation about future events
- pointless speculation about past events
- regurgitated press releases or other marketing/PR material
- gossip about people I don’t know and in whom I have very little interest
- other people’s holiday snaps
- mis-leading or downright false statistics or other numbers
- asking random members of the public for their uninformed opinion
- finding two people with almost infeasibly extreme and diametrically opposite views to argue, coupled to the belief that such an argument somehow creates balance.
I could go on – and I’m sure you will have your own favourites that I have missed from the list – but I won’t. You may think I exaggerate, but sadly I don’t. For example, a very recent headline in a broadsheet newspaper was a quotation from the head of Sky News (sadly, not an information service about clouds) boasting that his organisation produced “more imaginative” news than the BBC. I’m really not looking for imagination in the news – I look for that in the world of fiction (and great fun it is too) – I am looking to be informed about current events.
Given my long-term avoidance of the news, I might have supposed that matters may have improved – in defiance of cultural entropy. However, whilst in Wales recently I shared the cottage with a news watcher – so I can assure that it has, if anything, become even more banal than I remembered.
How, you might ask, do I keep myself informed? OK, I’ll admit you didn’t ask (you just can’t get the readers) but don’t imagine that means I won’t be telling you!
I have to inform myself, slowly over time – new knowledge, as it is acquired, has to be patched into the existing picture. Some of my sources include:
- Reading books (a lot of books), both fiction and non-fiction. For example knowing a little history (not just the dates) and little about the human condition seems to place me streets ahead of most of the political class (who, based on many of their policies, must never have met another human being).
- Memory of my O-levels is useful – I still seem to know more about flooding than most, including those with responsibilities for planning.
- The Edinburgh Science Festival provided lunchtime lectures which appear to have left me strangely well-informed about some of the key issues affecting the planet, and which regularly appear in the news
- Podcasts: particularly The Life Scientific, More or Less, A Point of View and Inside Science – but honourable mentions must also go to Thinking Aloud, the Nature Podcast and In Our Time.
- BBC4 and Radio 4 documentaries. As just one example, Adam Rutherford’s recent series on intelligence (Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different) was probably the most intelligent thing on genetics and education I’ve ever heard (or read).
My way is a much slower process, and one’s knowledge and understanding grows at least partially by the operation of serendipity – but that is, if I’m honest, a lot of the fun. It also does wonders for my systolic and diastolic – as I don’t have to shout incoherent obscenities at the haunted goldfish bowl for its latest news-based solecism. Using my method, I find I can come to a much more nuanced (and less knee-jerk) understanding of the issues. It also reminds me that to any given problem there is always a simple, obvious solution (often two, in violent opposition) and it (or they) will be utterly wrong.
So join me! Give up on “the news”! Leave the polarised world of black and white and join me in the grey of greater understanding.