Friday, January 08, 2010

What news today?

The beginning of the year and the newspapers are at it already. The headlines read: ‘Retail splurges put heat on rates.’ So now again we must panic. The news sensationalises. If the retail sector had been slow over Christmas, the headlines would read something like, ‘Confidence low as retail takes a nose dive.’

Panic. We must all panic. Every day we become overwrought that doom and gloom is just around the corner. The newspapers feed on misadventure, despair, and anxiety or on the occasional report of treacly sweet goodness: 'Child rescues baby sister from house fire'.

Years ago when I joined a class on non-fiction writing where the emphasis was on techniques of journalism, I found the simplicity of it all 'under-whelming'. The philosophy held we must report the salient features of an event first and run down the peripheral details point by point in an ever decreasing spiral of significance so that it mattered not whether the first sentence alone were published. Only the first and maybe second sentences mattered. They provided the bald facts. Thereafter all details became mere embellishments and the editor would use his/her discretion as to whether they remained in the published report.

This discretion it seemed was based on competing news reports. The value of news was rated for its sensational qualities and also on the pressure to advertise. If someone paid more for their advertisement of course it would be given pride of place against the news of the day, which did not pay in itself. The news however was intended as a money spinner in that it was reported in such a way as to draw in readers, and more readers encouraged more advertisers. Those who bought advertising space wanted as many of their advertisements read and acted upon, so the news itself became a saleable commodity. I imagine all of this still applies today, even perhaps more so.

Generally, I read only the front page every morning first thing after I have picked up the plastic covered newspaper from the driveway and brought it inside. I unwrap it from its Gladwrap as I walk down the corridor, that is when I can. Sometimes the Gladwrap refuses to unstick and I must take to it with a knife. It is a morning ritual akin to the business of making that first cup of tea or coffee. It is the business of waking up.

Once, not so many years ago, I read the newspaper in a cursory sort of way. I peeled the pages one from the other and scanned each article. Some I read through from beginning to end, most I only skimmed.

I have never been a newspaper reader, except on weekends when I like to pore over The Age and The Australian’s Review of books. Here I find something of interest. My husband on the other hand, even as he might complain about the thin quality of newspaper reporting, will read the newspaper from beginning to end every day.

‘What news today?’ I might ask and sometimes he will oblige me with an answer. Other times he will tell me that if I want to know I should read it for myself. My husband hates to have his brain ‘picked over’. Fair enough, I say. Lazy people like me who cannot be bothered trawling through the so-called news of the day might look for shortcuts, and ask their partners for a summary, but should they be so indulged?

Our children tend to read the news on line, as does my husband, more and more. This is particularly useful for updates on events as they happen. Even I have taken to reading the news on line. This time last year when the bushfire season had begun, I focused on the areas in Healesville, in Badger and Chum Creeks where my husband’s family live.

The selfishness of my newspaper reading is obvious. I will always read if it pertains to me and mine. But I cannot abide the sensationalising of news, particularly on such massive events as the economy, which is not simply driven by local events but by global events. More often than not it feels completely outside of my control. I am not a frugal person.

I am one of the wastrels. I should be more careful, but I cannot be bothered to get into penny-pinching and miserliness. Life is too short, I tell myself, to worry too long about the debt we will be left with in our old age. As long as we can work and earn enough money on which to survive, we will survive.

It is a blinkered view I know, but if I allowed myself to worry about all the things I could worry about daily, I doubt that I could go on. I doubt that I could allow myself to spend the few precious hours I use each weekend on my reading and writing. I doubt that I could allow myself to celebrate my children’s birthdays. I doubt that I could allow myself to enjoy good food and wine. I doubt that I could have allowed myself my recent trip to the Writers House for a week of reading, walking, writing and writerly conversation. I doubt that I could allow myself to tend to all the things in this house that currently need repair.

The list goes on. The list is endless. And finally to my list of all the things I would not do were I to allow myself to indulge in thoughts of not wasting a thing in this life, of not indulging myself in any excesses, and instead worrying about all the things that are wrong, I doubt that I would be able to blog as I do.

Blogging swallows time. It is almost purely self indulgent and although I can claim that I learn many things on line through other people’s blogs and that I have met many wonderful and fascinating people in this virtual world, which has its underpinnings in the real world – most of the bloggers with whom I communicate are real, however well concealed their identities – I cannot claim that the activity of blogging is essential to survival. Though it does assist the quality of my internal life, I am not sure it helps much else.

I have talked myself into the hole of non-existence when I allow myself to speculate like this. After a while it gets me nowhere and so I must stop before I persecute myself further. My guts begin to ache, the well of anxiety in my hips – that’s where I feel it most – rises to the base of my stomach and eventually reaches my mid sternum, by which time I must take a deep breath and change topics.
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