Brian Edwards Media

No News Really Is Good News

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During our recent holiday in Rarotonga we saw no television, listened to no radio, and read no newspapers. We were extremely happy. When we got home again, we turned on the television at 6 o’clock each night to watch the network news and collected the Herald from the letterbox at 6.30 each morning to read in bed. (We’re not great radio listeners.) We were noticeably less happy. I came to the same conclusion that I come to after every news-free holiday overseas. Mass media news has an insidiously corrosive effect on happiness.

The simplest explanation of this is the inherently depressing nature of the news itself. Good news is not considered “sexy” by the mass media and a diet of murder, mayhem, tragedy and disaster is unlikely to raise the spirits. The picture of ourselves and of our world which we get from television, radio, newspapers and the Net is therefore essentially negative and gloomy.

As a reflection of our lives it is also inaccurate. Crime news provides an excellent illustration of this. It is the commonest form of news, yet most of us will go through life without being murdered, assaulted, or experiencing a home invasion. Similarly, we will have no contact with P, heroin or cocaine. We will not be involved in war, genocide, terrorism, military coups or torture. Natural disasters will be the exception rather than the rule. Corruption in government and the public sector will be virtually non-existent. But if you remove these topics from news media coverage on an average day you will have very little left. What we call “the news”  in fact offers a distorting mirror on the world of our day-to-day experience. 

Nor has the proliferation of news sources made us wiser or even better informed. There is simply  too much information, too many voices producing nothing more than babble, a persistent and inescapable white noise ringing in our ears, polluting the environment, disturbing the peace.

For a time I though this might be just my own personal view of the news, my own perhaps atypical experience of the effect of the news on my state of mind.

But a recent ‘Happiness Survey’ conducted by UMR Research revealed that the consumers of television, newspapers and the Net in New Zealand are among the least happy people in the country. No news, as it turns out, really is good news.

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15 Comments:

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more.

  2. Brian – dont forget that you are part of this horror story – and have been for many years.

    • Brian – dont forget that you are part of this horror story – and have been for many years.

      Once maybe, Barry, but I would say that my five years hosting Top of the Morning lifted the spirits of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders. And Fair Go certainly performed a useful and positive purpose in society.

  3. Must also mention of course the current TV drama diet of crime show after crime show after crime show, which reinforce the news media reportage. I reserve most of my viewing to comedy and the advertisements.

    • Must also mention of course the current TV drama diet of crime show after crime show

      Good point. I’m spending a lot more time watching Comedy Central than the major networks these days, though I won’t miss Outrageous Fortune. Well, the crime in that is fun!

  4. Brian, as an Irishman myself I have to say that the very title of TOTM aroused my visceral hatred of paddywhackery and sham-roguery. I mean, have you ever actually heard anyone from Ireland use that phrase? It was a pleasant way to start my weekend, nevertheless, once I got past the title. And it was well-thought out and researched, as opposed to TV news, which tipped beyond parody some years ago.

    • Brian, as an Irishman myself I have to say that the very title of TOTM aroused my visceral hatred of paddywhackery and sham-roguery.

      You’re right, I never heard anyone say ‘top of the morning’, though of course I come from the North. Nor did I ever hear anyone refer to a shillelagh. A great Irish actor, whose name escapes me for the moment, said ‘shillelagh’ was the English word for a blackthorn stick.

  5. Oh Brian – such chutzpah.
    As the media trainer behind the government that managed the news for the last 10 years, you cant run away from some responsibility that easily.
    Control of the political news for the last few years basically means controlling the lead story in the papers and on TV; and when it came to turning on the nasties, there was no one better than one helen Clark.
    Sorry Brian – youre up your neck in this one !!

    • Oh Brian – such chutzpah.

      I’m happy to reveal to you the advice which we gave to Helen Clark and her ministers over a 12 year period, Barry. It never varied. It was the same advice we give to all our clients: “Be straightforward, tell the truth, admit your mistakes.” We give that advice not for moral reasons, but because it is what works best in dealing with the media. If is, of course, not always taken, particularly the last bit. What a cynical view you have of humanity.

  6. As regards shillelagh, I have heard it used, but not in the stick sense. It’s a village in County Wicklow near where my father grew up. The trees there are all that remain of what was once a huge oak forest covering most of Wicklow and northern Wexford. Most of it was chopped down in Elizabethan times and sent to England for shipbuilding and general construction (including, apparently, some work in the House of Lords). This is, I imagine, where shillelagh becomes associated with lengths of knobbly oak. But really, no one even pretends the lump of bog oak you sell to the Yanks has the slightest cultural merit or significance.

  7. Good news is no news. How often the good news sinks….unless someone argues that its wrong. The negative argument or criticism doesn’t require any basis in fact at all, it merely needs to look like a fight. It appears to be the only way ‘good news’ will ever get reported – when its torn down.

    • Good news is no news. How often the good news sinks….

      Very true. There have been numerous attempt to publish ‘good news only’ newspapers. Most, if not all have failed. However, one was true to its principles to the end. Its final edition made no mention of the fact that it would not be appearing on the following day.

  8. Ah, you’re definitely not alone on this Brian.

    We stopped getting the paper at home many years ago, simply because we had little time to read it and found no value in doing so when we did. We know many people who have done the same, although we also meet people who are amazed we don’t get the paper.

    When we do turn the tele on during news time it is very depressing, and I’ve noticed we are tending to watch the evening news less and less these days. Why is so much television devoted to crime? Judging by television, and the ChCh Star, we’re obsessed by crime.

    We mostly get our news from National Radio, which does inflict some mass media effects on us (do the Morning Report people ever listen to Media Watch?), and this along with various web sites and blogs (no, not Stuff) are our primary news sources.

    I think we’re better off without the mass-media, but then maybe that makes us freaks.

    PS: I laughed at barry’s comments here, but I think he’s wrong. Your impact on the media in this country has been a positive one, IMHO.

    • Ah, you’re definitely not alone on this Brian.

      Thanks Greg. To cheer yourself up, however, try the Jon Stewart show on C4.