Wednesday, January 26, 2005

How much bad news is too much?

Call me naive, or the kind of person who likes putting their head in the sand, but this morning I'm feeling like the world is too much with us. Here are the four main stories on the front page of the Globe and Mail on-line edition, under "Breaking News."

A Jewish revival in Poland without any Jews

No survivors in Iraq helicopter crash

Chr├ętien demands Gomery step aside

PM won't delay same-sex bill despite MP anxiety

This is the news of the day. Not a happy story in the bunch. Now, I'm not saying that we need happy pills or something like that, in order to make it through the day. (Although the idea has merit.)

But I'm finding that more and more these days I feel like I don't get enough good news. The world is a tough place and today's modern media means that I hear a lot more about it than I ever did before. But there are lots of places where life is going on just fine. In fact, people are happy. Good news stories are out there. Heck, even the Globe has a few, like a story about the origins of pizza. (I'd link to it, but it's only available to Insider subscribers, for some ridiculous reason.)

Who decided that "bad" is "news?" Why are we tantalized by stories of disaster, horror, sickness, etc., but seemingly bored by stuff about regular, day-to-day activities? Regular is, well, regular. And that's not much fun.

About now, I imagine you're thinking, "This is going nowhere. I'm bored." But bear with me. I may not have a brilliant thesis on the go, but I hope to make a few connections that will at least keep you awake.

Last night, on The Daily Show, with Jon Stewart, his guest was Seymour Hersh. Now, for those of you who aren't media junkies, you may not know that Seymour Hersh is a legendary investigative journalist with The New Yorker. He's the guy who simply doesn't keep step with the rest of the media out there. Last week, he published his latest article, which outlines the plans within the White House and the Pentagon to invade Iran. Naturally, it has been met with the usual response from "official" sources, but without outright denials. It's worth reading.

If you don't watch The Daily Show regularly, you should know that it's claim to fame is that it's a fake news show. That's right. Fake News. Facts are not a huge deal. The "facts" merely serve as the intro to their pieces. From there, it's full speed ahead to whatever outrageous conclusion the "reporters" decide is appropriate.

The show's outrageous commentaries during the recent Presidential election and the war in Iraq have earned it a huge following. A lot of Americans, especially younger ones, say they get most of their news about current political events, from watching the program. Which does give one pause for thought.

Seymour Hersh is a favourite guest for Stewart, who really seems to admire Hersh's dogged refusal to cowtow to "offical" sources. Instead, whether it's covering the events of Sept. 11, or the war in Iraq, or the current plans for the invasion of Iran, Hersh insists on using his own sources and telling a story distinctly at odds with the "official" version.

At one point in his interview, Stewart asks Hersh, "Do you check up on these sources? To make sure the facts are correct?"

"Of course," Hersh replied. "Everything is checked very, very carefully."

"See. That's where you and I are different. We don't have to check the facts," Stewart told his guest.

Hmmm...that anecdote didn't end up addressing my first thesis of this piece, did it? It wasn't really about bad news vs. good news. It was more about the value of getting the story right, vs putting out a version that makes people laugh. In fact, that kind of goes against my thesis, because Stewart's show is funny. He's able to take bad news (which is most of what we see and hear) and turn it on its head and make us laugh at the absurdity of a lot of it.

At this point, I think I'll just adopt a blogger convention and toss this whole thing over to you, the reader, to help me sort things out.

I started with the contention that bad news overwhelms good news. Then I moved over to talking about how taking another look at bad news from a silly, irreverant point of view can make us feel good about it. Now I'm wondering what that means?

Are we glossing over the significance of what we hear by trivializing it? Or do we just start to block out the bad news and only perk up when really serious stuff, like Brad and Jen breaking up, hits the airwaves?

Now I've really lost my focus. So if you want to add some comments to this thread, please do so. I'll go off and give a bit more thought to the whole thing.

But you know what? I don't feel as depressed about the news as I did when I started this little rant. And as Martha might say, "That's a good thing."


Paul said...

I don't know why but people pay attention to bad news more than good news. Take rubber-neckers for example. These people must slow down to take a look at the accident across the median. They need to see gore. People, if it's not in your lane, keep it moving!

They should have a special lane on the highways just for rubber-neckers. They can pull over, eat a sandwich and watch the entire post-accident proceedings... without slowing me down!

Paul said...

I have some good news for you Dave. A new beverage will soon be on the market!

Beermaker Anheuser-Busch is launching a new "brew" to go head-to-head with classic mixed drinks -- traditional suds spiked with caffeine, fruit flavoring, herbal guarana and ginseng.

The world's largest brewer's nationwide rollout this week of B-to-the-E -- the "B" standing for beer, the "E" for something "extra" and shown as an exponent of B -- came as beermakers look to piggyback strides liquor companies have made in luring young consumers to flavored and mixed drinks.

Slightly sweet but tart and coming in the aromas of blackberry, raspberry and cherry, B-to-the-E is to be marketed toward "active 21- to 27-year-old experimenters looking for new tastes and options."

Dave said...

Well. There you go. And I thought there wasn't any good news coming. Mind you, I'm not sure that a new type of pseudo-beer was exactly what I was expecting. But beggars can't be choosers.

Thanks for the good news.

Paul said...

It wasn't what I had in mind either but sadly it's the only thing I could find on the homepage of that wasn't bad news. I guess that's sad news and now were back to where we started.