I’ve started reading a fascinating new book – The News by Alain De Botton – that I picked up recently. The book explores the question of ‘Why we keep checking the News?’ After the New Year, I made a conscious effort to keep up with the news each week – a news year resolution if you will. I now read ‘The Week’ and bits of ‘The Economist’ each week. I also follow daily news on the BBC news website and the ‘Daily Briefing’ on ‘The Week’ app. Then, upon finding a story of interest I will delve further into it with more research. This is my strategic approach to immerse myself with the news of the world.
I am around five to six weeks into my resolution. What started as a resolution has quickly become a habit, which in turn has formed a far more alarming habit. Because of my need to know exactly what is going on the world, I sometimes fail to form an opinion on the material (this is partly to do with the huge breadth of news out there), and sometimes I fail to clarify where I stand on the issues presented. Which in essence goes against the outcome I desire – to become a more active civil participant in society through the actions of my opinions.
This issue frightened me. The news is there to help us form an opinion – so why was I sometimes failing to do so? Was it my fault – somewhat yes – partly because of the lack of time to explore all the issues presented by the news. But was it how the news was being presented too? My interpretation of Botton’s idea of ‘Boredom and Confusion’ within the news helped me explore my dilemma.
Botton’s section of ‘Boredom and Confusion’ argues that we are in need of ‘good signposts’ to help us point out the larger theme in question in the news. He argues that news articles can create boredom, as they do not connect with the larger thematic issues that we care about. He also argues that when we watch or read the news, we are only provided with a small snapshot of a far larger narrative. He likens this to the notion of focusing on one small area of a painting without actually seeing it in its entirety. We cannot decipher what the painting is depicting, therefore we are effectively left guessing it’s meaning. He contemplates that the same is true with the small snapshot that the news provide. A snapshot of a far larger narrative that we, too, cannot decipher due to the lack of context – hence, his idea of the need of thematic signposts.
Returning to my question – is it entirely my fault that I sometimes fail to form an opinion or does it require the news – in Botton’s opinion – to create ‘good signposts’ to help us link stories and ultimately form opinions? I believe the fault lies with both parties.
I agree with Botton’s position of signposting. As a society, we need the news to start implementing this idea, as it limits our ability to form constructive opinions. We are left searching for what narrative the piece of news falls under, which in Botton’s opinion – for which I agree – ends in boredom or confusion.
I also understand that more research needs to be done by the individual to form an opinion too. It is our responsibility to do our research to form our own opinions but we do need ‘signposts’ to point us in the right direction. An example of signposting could be:
My example of a signpost above may be a fairly obvious one to some, but do not underestimate the importance of it to others. The goal of the news should be to educate people in civil society and to give them the best possible chance to form an opinion on the subject matter, regardless of their standing in society or their perceived intelligence. Everyone has a voice and not only should it be respected, but it should be given the full picture to help it develop.