Friday, September 28, 2007

This time, it really is about the news

Let it never be said that I don't make the same mistake twice. In other words, I bought newspapers again today. Two of them - the Sun and The Times. Actually, I meant to buy The Independent, not The Times, but clearly even at the purchasing stage I struggle to pay them adequate attention.

And I do struggle to pay them adequate attention; I seem to have some kind of aversion. Within a paragraph of any story, I've usually glazed over; assuming I've even got past the headline. And on the odd occasion I get to the end of a story, it's seemingly only after a supreme effort of will on my part; and the odd rest or two. I was being slightly disingenuous in my last post: often it's not boredom that stops me reading, it's some kind of mental reflex, equivalent to gagging. I find my brain rejecting the words, quite violently.

Let's take the front page of today's Sun:

I'm here, Dad...
I'll stay as long as it takes


Bollocks did he say that. Or rather, bollocks do they know he said that. Turn to pages 4 & 5 and sure enough, yep, they've paraphrased the words of "a source close to the family". There'd barely be a story at all without the words of this mysterious all-knowing "a source close to". There'd barely be a Sun, in fact. There's always an "a source close to". When we finally find this omnipresent celeb hanger-on he or she should be forcibly silenced so that we don't have to read yet more of these non-stories, the flappy-mouthed bastard. Perhaps by being forced to eat every single one of the innumerable words they've spewed out over the years - either they'll be too busy to speak for the next few decades, or they'll choke. Either way: result.

And what's the main headline?


I am this far away from slapping my forehead over and over until those five words have fallen from my brain. Or my brain has fallen from my head. Whichever proves most expedient.

Yes, I know it has inverted commas around it, but could that be any more sensationally misleading on first glance? The first line of the text box next to it might as well say: "Made you look." It doesn't of course, although that would at least be more honest. As for what it does say there:

Kate and Gerry McCann were horrified yesterday as desperate Portuguese cops amazingly claimed the couple had buried missing daughter Madeleine over the border in Spain.

The latest in a string of sick theories from cops...

Nice to see The Sun taking a typically even-handed stance on whether these poor innocent Brits* had anything to do with their daughter's disappearance, or are just being wilfully tormented by a bunch of nasty foreigners set on prolonging their agony.

Don't get me wrong, I expect nothing less of The Sun - after all, what would it be without emotive, biased, manipulative and xenophobic reporting? (Answer: readable; credible; less popular, probably. Depressingly). And I have no idea what's true and what's not in the whole McCann saga. But is it really still news - front page news? Hello, what about Burma? Oh, there it is, in a speech bubble next to the blonde head of Amii, 20, from Birmingham, who has this to say:

It's horrifying to see images of innocent protesters being gunned down by soldiers simply because they are marching for democracy.

Which is presumably why such images, and any other mention of Burma whatsoever, have been bumped to page 12. Nice to see that its Page 3 girls now have a hand in the Sun's editorial decisions. Who'd have thought we'd see that day? Truly, we have progressed.

Tossing The Sun aside, then, let's move on to The Times.

It too has plenty of faults, of course; not least blandness, and the same ownership as The Sun. And sometimes that is why I glaze over as I scan its pages, why my brain rebels against the words, but there are other reasons why I struggle to pay the news - the serious news - adequate attention: sometimes I find myself caring. I hate it when that happens.

I wore a red shirt today in support of the Burmese. I doubt very much that it helped. And I can't say that I saw anyone else wearing one. But it was easy enough to do. Which is probably why I did it: if it had been anything more arduous, I doubt I would have. I'm a hypocrite. And I don't like to care - via then not doing anything, it makes me a hypocrite.

There's too much to care about. Too many stories from which some little detail of someone's humanity could leap out from amidst the rhetoric, agenda and non-stories of whichever paper I'm reading it in, and trigger not the mental gagging reflex I talked about but a lump in my throat. Too many lumps in your throat and you can't breathe.

Today, flip-flops, of all things, made me care, made me want to do something; made me realise I won't; made me realise I can't. They were on the feet of protesters being shot at and beaten by Burmese police and soldiers; and they were lying on the road, left behind as they fled. When, I found myself thinking, would you ever need to shoot at someone in flip-flops? What person has ever been a threat to society whilst wearing flip-flops?

There were other details, as well, buried towards the end of the main article; recounted once the journalist finally had some room to write, having got the blander, more ignorable facts out of the way, as journalists must. He must have been praying that the end of the article - in this instance, perhaps the most important part - wasn't cut, like so many are. Fortunately, as far as I can tell, it wasn't. It contained details of the kind of one-to-one human encounters, that, reported more or less baldly, without The Sun's blatant emoting, can bring a story home to someone; that can make it real. Maybe make it real to someone who can do something. At least, I hope so. Though I'm not sure what anyone outside of politics can do, or whether anyone inside politics will do anything particularly effective.

I said above that I don't like to care. In the case of Burma, it's because I can't do anything, anything meaningful. In so many other cases, it's because maybe I could. And it's because I know I won't. Unless it's easy. Like ranting on a blog hardly anyone reads.

I've linked to this before, but now seems to be an apt time to link to it again:

Suu Kyi/Giacometti, on Locus Novus.

I knew nothing about Aung San Suu Kyi before seeing that. Shortly after, I happened to read a chapter from the then still Chancellor, Gordon Brown's book, Courage: Eight Portraits - it was also about Aung Suu Kyi. The chapter was syndicated in The Guardian. If anyone reading this doesn't know anything about her, or the issues surrounding what's going on in Burma at the moment, I'd recommend at least reading what he wrote. She really is a remarkable woman.

As for Gordon Brown, it's probably too early to judge. I just hope that, unlike me, he has the courage of his convictions; clearly, someone else needs to.

*They're British, they must be innocent, remember?


emapple said...

I do the same things with newspapers - in all honesty the only time I read them from cover to cover is when I'm locked up and there ain't nothing else to do. But then I read the sports pages and that's really desperate.

I agree re flip flops - something I would never do.

And it is difficult to know what to do. I wore a red shirt and wished I was doing more. If I'd been in London I'd have gone to the Burmese Embassy, but down here doesn't seem much else to do.


Occasional Poster of Comments said...

I actually got around to looking at that copy of The Sun properly-ish today. Not only was the stuff about Burma shunted to page 12, but they didn't even give it as much space as the Beckham "news". It's basically just a daily version of Heat really, isn't it? Even the names are sort of related. I know I shouldn't expect anything else, but still...

The Times irritated me too, mind. There was a double page story about Eastern European women being sold into prostitution in England; specifically, about how it was increasingly a problem in more unlikely places like Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. The article went on and on about all these brothels that had been raided, and what some of the women had suffered, but gave only the scantest of information about what might have happened to any of the women afterwards. I mean, what help do they get? Are they just sent back to wherever they're from? Presumably, as they're immigrants, we're not going to care about that, though, are we?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

This is why I don't read newspapers.

David Marc Napier Bate said...

Fantastic blog, Tim. Not that your humourous ones are not fascinating, but so much more fascinating when you put your serious head on. As for the 'medya', ugly and unpleasant as the experience was, dare I say you set yourself up with the choice of rags you chose: not that there is much real choice these days. It was great to read about Suu Kyi/Giacometti, tinged by a selfish sadness that, for whatever reason, Zimbabwe seems to be more or less overlooked!

Jen said...

I know what you mean Tim. I tend to read the comment and analysis stuff rather than straight news.

The mainstream media are hard to read/listen to without getting cynical. My sister gets a newspaper called positive news that reports on good things that have happened.

I get very tired of having to read with a filter and think - well it probably didn't happen like that anyway.

Occasional Poster of Comments said...


Thanks. And, yep, set myself up. Kind of deliberately. Well, not quite deliberately; after all I did mean to pick up The Independent. But anyway, the idea was to grab newspapers from either end of the spectrum and just have a rant about "the news", instead of just "things in the news", examine why I find it so difficult to even read the stuff. I wasn't exactly expecting much in the way of journalistic integrity (or whatever) from The Sun, but nevertheless the fact that the first mention of Burma came from a Page 3 Girl and the next was on page 12, even by their standards, was still hard to credit. And you're right, although I've seen a few things in The Indie of late, Zimbabwe (and so many other things, no doubt) is pretty overlooked.


Yep, it's having to read with a filter that makes it so difficult. And I guess it's weird that these days (through conventional media, never mind the internet) we can find out about so many more things than anyone has the capacity to care about. It's hard to strike the balance: disregarding (for want of a better word) enough of it that you don't spend your time permanently disheartened, but not so much of it that you feel like some kind of heartless cynic. Can't say I've managed it yet.


Hello there. I gave up for ages too, but figured if I'm going to pursue comedy I should start trying to write some more of it, particularly topical stuff. That post didn't really qualify, but got some stuff out of my system at least.