Friday, October 27, 2006

Good News is No News

I’m glad I never had to work for a newspaper. I mean it must be a terribly depressing job for someone with a cheerful and positive outlook on life.

“Smathers,” says the editor, “I don’t know what you have in mind turning in this story all about a happy family. It’s not the sort of thing we need at all. What we need is stuff with nasty divorces, murders and rapes with a bit of paedophilia thrown in. Take McTaggart over at that other desk. He’s just come up with a corker. Did a bit of dumpster diving and found a whole bunch of incriminating letters. Great story! It’s got the lot. A Tory MP, a catholic priest, couple of choirboys and a lesbian. Of course we’re leaking it. I mean, it’ll be an even bigger story when it gets into court. And I forgot, the MP’s trying to get a divorce – this is really going to screw him. And then Jackson has that great story about the old age pensioner being mugged. He’s in a coma. No, not Jackson, you fool, the OAP. Now that’s the sort of stuff we want, not this happy families rubbish.”

And Smathers will creep away despondently and take up another profession, such as being a spin doctor for a political party, where they only want to hear good news.

And this depressing scenario even runs through to the typesetting department, where I understand they keep in what they refer to as “standing type,” those headlines that appear most often, such as “Henman Loses” or “England Slump.” It does save a lot of time, I suppose.

It used to be said that “dog bites man” is not news but that “man bites dog” is, and under the new regulations I’m sure that the maximum penalty for the latter is now greatly increased and probably includes deportation if the law can catch up with the culprit, which seems unlikely. Undoubtedly it is much more newsworthy nowadays, especially if the dog happens to be an illegal minority on public assistance.

So obsessed are the newspapers with gloom and doom that most of them have given up the cartoon pages as introducing an irreverent degree of levity into matters. American newspapers still have pages of what are colloquially known as “the funnies” and which do provide some entertaining reading matter. Just as well, since the rest of the edition, which will have consumed the product of a couple of rain forests, will be devoted to the annual sales with a couple of paragraphs of news carefully tucked away so as not to interfere with the marketing.

It is long since I gave up the notion that my views would have any influence on world affairs, but I do like to keep abreast of matters. So, every morning I read the world press, courtesy of the internet, hoping against hope that somewhere there will be a nugget of cheerfulness in the slough of despond that seems to surround us.

But I seldom find it and it makes a depressing start to the day.

It’s tempting to think of this love of printed misery as being a modern trend but, flicking through the pages of an Illustrated London News of 1866, it seems the Victorians were even more enamoured with the newsworthiness of disaster. Fortunately for the reporters of the day, it seems that coal mines were constantly entombing miners and that ships were forever being lost with all hands, leaving grieving widows and orphans, grist to the mill for the news men, who filled column after column with reports of the tragedies in rather more flowery and evocative prose than today.

As usual, I seem to find myself in a minority. After all, look at the circulation figures for the Daily Mail! Sadly Private Eye is not a daily, otherwise that would cheer me up. Or, perhaps, The Beano.

Now I come to think of it, one of the happiest periods of my life was when I lived in England for a year or so. I took no newspapers, had no television nor did I have a radio.

One day a little man arrived on my doorstep and demanded to see my licence for these. I said I didn’t have them. I don’t think he realised I was referring to the hardware and not the paperwork. His eyes narrowed and behind him I could see his colleague swivelling the aerial on the detector van in a desperate attempt to locate my clandestine radio that I’m sure he was convinced I had buried under a pile of old socks. Eventually he went away muttering and I suppose my name was entered on some government black list, but the incident did give me a moment of pleasure at having baffled officialdom.

And I recall how contented I was in those days. And the world still continued revolving without my assistance.

I think I’ll just give up reading the papers in the morning.

And I don’t suppose it will make a scrap of difference to Bush, Blair or any other world leader and their satraps who would try to make my mornings depressing by creating misery and mayhem.

Ah, peace, perfect peace.

You see, no news IS good news.

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