People used to gather around the radio or television to listen to the news. Anchormen like Walter Cronkite were the modern-day equivalents of the campfire storyteller, bringing stories from all over the world to our television screens, and practically everyone listened in. However, this is no longer the case.
Regardless of how we obtain the news, it appears to have lost its value in people’s daily lives. So, how can we rebuild news as an important aspect of our global understanding? Let us learn more from Alain De Botton’s book The News.
Is this something you’ve heard before? You bring a newspaper home with every intention of reading it from cover to cover, but you only get through a few articles before tossing it in the recycling basket. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who feels this way.
Many readers nowadays are disconnected from the news, especially when confronted with headlines about esoteric and complex political subjects. Consider the following BBC headline from 2013: “Tenant’s rent arrears had risen during a pilot benefit scheme.” If you read below the headline, you’ll learn that the government began providing housing assistance directly to renters rather than landlords, and that the tenants spent these benefits elsewhere, causing them to have more difficulty paying their rent: an interesting story.
However, the headline makes it sound dull, and what’s worse, the tiny piece that follows doesn’t even attempt to clarify the issue by placing it in the context of social transformation.
Serious concerns must be presented in a broader context to be compelling and digestible. Readers will simply not grasp or be uninterested if only a portion of a difficult subject is covered. It’s like asking someone to read a paragraph from a work of fiction with no context and then expect them to comprehend why the passage is so good.
For example, there is a description of a man sitting in the waiting room of a lawyer’s office in Anna Karenina at one point. The description is meaningless on its own. Only if you know that the man is waiting to see his lawyer because he wants to divorce his wife, who has fallen in love with someone else, can you understand the beauty and emotional pull. And that if the divorce is approved, his wife will be shunned and isolated from Russian society.
The news could learn a thing or two from books. Only by contextualizing and framing their stories, and thereby articulating what’s at stake and showing how the story fits into the bigger picture, will news organizations be able to engage and inform their audiences.
It’s oddly amazing, when you think about it, that people can spend hours binge-watching episode after episode of a fictional drama while being bored stiff by the nightly world news. The problem isn’t that people don’t comprehend the relevance of the news; it’s how it’s delivered.
Some claim that we only care about news that has a direct impact on our lives. However, this viewpoint is oversimplified. Let’s imagine you’re talking to a friend about a news item from ten years ago about how the Italian government had degenerated into turmoil. You describe how the budget fell apart and how politicians shattered old ties while forging new ones.
Unless your pal is Italian, chances are he will be completely indifferent. This plot, however, has a lot in common with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, a drama that has captivated audiences for centuries. Why is the news report uninteresting yet the drama about Roman politics is enthralling?
Shakespeare’s works continue to captivate audiences because he recognized that stories are most engaging when they address universal themes.
Many news stories nowadays become caught down in minutiae and overlook the universal aspects. The fight between Caesar and Pompey, for example, and the extended debate among the senators about how to depose the emperor are both insignificant components of Julius Caesar.
The play, however, remains remembered and continues to interest audiences because it addresses universal issues such as: What are our moral responsibilities to our country and its politics? When is it OK to betray a friend? What should we do if we are subjected to peer pressure?
This teaches us something new. News outlets will lure readers in and engage the public by highlighting universal themes embedded in global events.
Economic parts and news programs are sometimes seen as the least entertaining of all the many newspaper sections and news programs available. However, there is a simple reason for this: economic news is prepared specifically for investors.
This is a pity, because there are many fascinating anecdotes about commercial interactions to be found. Investors, on the other hand, are like pilots approaching a landing strip; all they care about is the indication that the runway is clear and they may proceed with their investment.
As a result, rather than interesting stories, economic news is primarily limited to data and figures that only investors can understand. As a result, you wind up with esoteric language like “the numbers for a company’s five-year dividend growth” or “the price-to-book ratio in the most recent quarter,” which are nothing better than gibberish to the typical reader.
Financial news organizations, on the other hand, have a lot to say. They have journalists covering issues all across the world, such as the production of niobium — a metal used in gas pipes – in Malawi. This extraction’s narrative has the potential to be both exciting and enlightening. Regrettably, it’s on its way to the financial section, where it’ll be buried in jargon.
That is only one example. There are many other powerful and fascinating stories to be unearthed if we look beyond the financial metrics. Take a peek at Sharp, a company that makes electrical appliances in the United States. Its televisions and microwaves are produced in a plant outside of Taki, Japan. Workers and their supervisors work long hours in a highly competitive market for modest wages.
If we examine this story closely, we can see that Sharp’s workaholic chairman, Mikio Katayama, has made a number of strategic mistakes. He overcommitted to microwaves just as the market began to diminish, and he invested in flat-panel technology that was swiftly rendered outdated. All of this will very certainly lead to the company’s bankruptcy and the firing of the chairman and 46,000 employees.
Investors may be more interested in the numbers, but there are always human tales behind the numbers, whether tragic or victorious. If you wanted to be entertained while watching the news, you’d go straight to the entertainment section, right? Even the piquancy of celebrity gossip, though, can turn a reader off; it often appears bland and shallow.
But don’t feel bad if you’re glued to the newest celebrity gossip. To be honest, our relationship with celebrities has a long history that dates back to the start of civilisation.
Admiration for others was promoted in Ancient Greece as a way for people to mimic and improve their own talents and excellent qualities. Politicians such as Pericles and Demosthenes were praised for their forthrightness and commitment to intellectual liberty and democracy. And athletes like Philammon were regarded as role models for strength and discipline.
Regardless of their profession, Greek superstars shared one trait: they lived a life of eudaimonia, which means “virtue and well-being” in Greek. Catholics have also put religious renown on particular individuals, those whose virtuosity we are supposed to respect and aspire to. These individuals are, of course, saints.
Patience, humility, generosity, chastity, and kindness are just a few of the Christian characteristics represented among the nearly 10,000 Catholic saints. But, despite the fact that we have more celebrities than ever before, the news is primarily focused on their negative characteristics, prompting one to wonder if there is anything good about them at all.
It’s a news piece about some obsessively minute detail, such as Emma Watson of the Harry Potter films buying strawberries in New York City, if it’s not an incident of embarrassingly awful behavior. Unfortunately, such stories are far more widespread than coverage of celebrities’ great achievements, such as Emma Watson’s commitment to the #heforshe campaign, which pushes for gender equality.
Perhaps the world would be a better place if the news concentrated on admirable attributes rather than celebrity eating habits. Aristotle believed that a tragedy might be used as an educational instrument to teach people about human emotions and morals in 335 BC, as long as the characters’ goals and personalities were well depicted.
This type of tragedy is exemplified by Oedipus Rex. It’s about a man who murders his father, marries his mother, and then chops out his own eyes — a series of horrors that would be even more terrifying if we didn’t know his intentions. But, thankfully, we don’t have to: the play does an excellent job of explaining why these things occur.
As an adopted child, Oedipus receives a prophecy that turns out to be self-fulfilling: he will kill his father and marry his mother. He departs home to protect the pair he believes to be his parents; however, on the way, he mistakenly kills his real father and marries his real mother. As with many great tragedies, the story helps you sympathize with someone who does something that would be inexcusable in normal circumstances.
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