Negative News

I have touched on the topic of News before – in the context of the heretofore unknown concept of “the Olds” – but the Righteous Glare was reflected from the mirror-like sheen of the News’ carapace, preventing me from performing my sworn duty. I’m here to tell you: this omission will be put right.

When I asked the Internet to define “news”, I was told it is: 1: a report of recent events, 2: previously unknown information, 3: something having a specified influence or effect.

Clearly, with in excess of over 6.6 billion people all generating events at a constant, if pedestrian, rate – ignoring for the moment geology, flora and fauna – not everything is going to make News at 10. At some point, someone has to decide what we get told.

Those people, the people who wield this rather terrible power over us, are called Editors. Now, I’m sure some of them are lovely people who would rather kiss a baby than eat one, but, being people and thus cursed with the same cultural yoke as the rest of us, they seem to focus on all the bad news.

It was the late, great Douglas Adams who stated that “Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which follows its own laws.” Assuming for a moment that Bad News propgates in a vacuum1, this theory explains the lack of communication with intelligences beyond our solar system. Would you want to meet a species who happily transmit their misery willy-nilly into the cosmos?

The main question here is why is bad news more newsworthy than good news? What does it say about us and the culture we have allowed to form around us? What internal fire does bad news stoke that good news extinguishes? No, I’m actually asking here. I’ve no idea.

It is probably the same reason why soap operas – primarily British ones – focus on the daily miseries of the occupants of some regionally stereotypical urban ghetto or lonely rural idyll. What is it about misery that we feel the need to report it, to simulate it, to elevate it above all else?

Why is good news relegated to the “And finally…” finale, where the anchorpeople let their voices rise half an octave and their heads leave the 5 degree envelope that it must inhabit for more weighty matters? Why is the good news deemed less important, less vital, of less worth, than bad news?

Why is someone dying more newsworthy than someone being born? After all, both events happen thousands of times every day in every part of the world. And why is someone dying peacefully of old age less newsworthy than someone dying violently at the hands of another?

Is tens of thousands of people dying from a natural disaster more newsworthy than tens of thousands of people dying from civil war? Why is the death of a thousand more newsworthy than the death of one?

The events that are reported as news aren’t really new. They are merely fresh occurrences of well-worn themes, most of them “bad”: violence, intolerance, you name it. Someone, somewhere, today, is giving life to their own unique version of it.

For those of us here at The Palace, the news is our worst nightmare; endless repeats of our failures delivered in BBC English on the hour, every hour, for the rest of Time. A highlight reel of our ineptitude, our inability to change the world.

A thought occurs. Perhaps the news is meant to act as a cultural to-do list, things that society must address in order to progress. It’s a daily health check. I can imagine Peter Snow and the infamous Swingometer, swung way the hell over into the red, giving us one of his wry looks that says “We’re in the shit, people, no two ways about it.”

I think what the talking heads are actually saying to us is “What are you going to do about it?” The problem is that what the people watching the news hear is “Today, fourteen people were killed by suicide bomber” and what they are thinking, if indeed they think anything at all, is “That’s terrible. Someone should do something about that.”


A. Schmaltzy straight-to-movie ending:

I got news for you. You are someone. I am someone. We are everyone. The world can be changed. But, to paraphrase many people more learned than I, it can only be changed one step at a time.

Come on, we’ll hold hands, pack a lunch, sing a song. It’ll be fun.

B. Original, literate, thought-provoking ending:

I didn’t actually write one of these. I spent all my time constructing the mechanism to enable multiple endings and ran out of time. Sorry.

1 We’ll postulate that Bad News is electromagnetic radiation, somewhere in the spectrum above Gamma Rays – high energy and highly destructive.