News – huh! – What is it Good For? (Say it again)

parliament mono

Houses of Parliament from Westminster Bridge – Photo by Montag

Have you ever seen the once-familiar in a whole new light? Looked really hard at something (or someone) previously taken for granted, and regarded it/them completely differently?

It happened to me once at junior school. I remember staring at one of my then friends. It was strange. It was like I was doing so for the very first time. A train of thought alighted upon me: Who is this person? Why am I hanging around with him? Why is he my friend? I stopped being so chummy with the lad shortly after that. It wasn’t that he’d done anything wrong. It’s just that awakenings can do that to you.

I had a similar episode regarding the concept of broadcast news a while ago.

It occurred in the middle of an otherwise innocuous activity – maybe it was cleaning the car, maybe feeding the cat. It suddenly dawned on me: isn’t the whole continuous news thing odd?

I thought: why do we have these hourly bulletins on the radio and other (less frequent) ones on the TV? If it all went away, I’m sure that not many people would be bothered. In the age of the internet we could easily do news by pull, rather than push. I mean, if I want to know fine detail about stock prices or what is really happening in Ferguson, MI this afternoon, chances are I won’t find that information on News At Ten. I’m going to have to sniff it out on the net of inter.

And talking of Berniers-Lee’s little toy, why did our national broadcasters bust a gut to create a sticky online presence in the late nineties? Why didn’t they just stick to radio and telly, and leave the internet to the techies and startups? (Yes, I know there are answers to this related to opportunities and threats, but I think there’s something else too)

Anyway the real question is: why this inescapable cycle of news? Every broadcaster. Every channel. Every day.

I’ll explore that via a series of further questions. See if you get to the answer before I do.

If news is so good, why do they create so many hoops for new organisations to jump through before they can create their own broadcasting channel? Transmitters are cheap! Anyone could set themselves up as broadcaster if it wasn’t for the legal obstacles.

Isn’t it funny how the powerful news organisations seem to cover similar stories? Why this ubiquity of importance? Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent provided some of the answers to this.

Right now, “psychological well being and the post-holiday return to work” might be the biggest story of the day as far as I am concerned, but I bet they won’t lead with it on Channel 4 news tonight (and for the record I am a huge fan of Jon, Cathy, Krishnan and the rest of the C4 news team).

I can guess what the lead story will be tonight. The same as on the BBC. That is, the agenda being pushed by the main UK political parties. Why is that the number one story? I didn’t say it was. Someone else has clearly decided that for me.

News. Agenda. Do you think that it socialises us in some way? Does it – from our youth onwards – teach us what’s important. And as we get older, does it keep us heading down some predefined route (the tram tracks of social conditioning), while to the left and right of us beautiful, wild and unexplored places exist?

It might just be the way that national identities are made these days.

One day, you might just wake up and decide that you don’t want to be made. That you really dislike the idea that your thoughts are being directed along the same lines as everyone else.

Soren Kierkegaard used to go on about similar things in the nineteenth century. How much worse might this be today with all of our tech-tech-tech?

Well I’ve already had that awakening and I don’t want to be moulded in that fashion. Them wild green fields to the left and the right got a lot of charm right now.

Looks like the end of another (beautiful?) friendship…


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