A newsboy was walking down the street selling papers and yelling, “Hot off the press. Fifty people swindled! Fifty people swindled!”
A concerned, community minded citizen stopped and bought a newspaper and then flicked through the pages. Finding nothing scandalous – evidently the paper was not The Voice – the man said, “There’s nothing in here about fifty people being swindled.”
The newsboy ignored him and set off again calling out, “Hot off the press. Fifty-one people swindled!”
Yeah, selling the news can be a dirty business, but I don’t really want to look too closely at paperboy tactics today; I’d rather get into the actual ‘news’ that gets reported in our newspapers and on TV and radio broadcasts. I am, however, going to have to rely on my memory a bit for this one.
For the first 40 or so years of my life I invested a great deal of time keeping up to date with current affairs but I don’t read newspapers or watch the nightly news on a regular basis any more. There are three reasons for that: the story lines of the articles and reports don’t seem to change much – just the names and places – I know too much about how the news business works to totally believe anything I read or hear and I find keeping up with what the media industry considers to be the news has a negative effect on my outlook on life. It makes the world seem like such a dangerous place.
Anyway, my employers will be glad to hear I’m not really recommending that all of you should stop reading newspapers and watching the news, I’m just saying you would be wise to think about how the things that get reported get chosen over all the other things that don’t. You see, for some reason bad news is more interesting to most people than good news, even if it doesn’t give the reader a fair picture of what is going on in the world.
It sells newspapers and gets people to tune in to news broadcasts and those readers and viewers are in theory sold on to the advertisers who want to convince them to buy their goods or services.
Believe it or not, even government funded news organisations often see bad news as good news – and this is the one that really chaps my butt – because when people are afraid they are going to be attacked by a foreign army or by terrorists or illegal immigrants or by common criminals on the streets they want the government to protect them.
That makes them much more willing to pay higher taxes for increased defence and police spending even if all the extra money doesn’t actually go into those things.
I’m not saying this is a carefully planed out conspiracy, but I don’t think it happens totally by accident either.
What I’m driving at hear is that if you want to function and get ahead in our modern society you probably need to keep up with what’s happening in your business and social environments, but that isn’t simply a matter of reading the papers and watching the news and believing whatever they shovel out.
There is a bit more work involved than that.