Yesterday I finished reading Kate Adie’s ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ and it’s got me thinking about the nature of news, and the relationship between events and the stories we tell – not just at a national/international news level, but in everyone’s lives.
Every moment is full of countless events, births and deaths, triumphs and tragedies. Far more happens than is ever reported in the media. The act of reporting is very much one of deciding what is important enough to share. News media seems to concentrate on the disasters, failures and tragedies. There’s also the tabloid obsession with celebrity gossip to consider. Minutiae from some folks’ lives is treated as newsworthy, while far more important occurrences go unremarked.
News informs our understanding of the world, but who chooses what we see? And who decided how to present it. News is not neutral, or objective. The way in which a story is told informs how we understand it. If we don’t have some sense of the biases and intentions in the media, we are open to being manipulated by the stories they choose to tell, and the ones they opt to ignore, and the ways of telling.
There is also the issue of how we tell the news in our own lives. How much detail do we share, and with whom? Telling our stories is a way of connecting with people, but there is such a thing as ‘too much information’. In our own lives, we too share news from a position of bias, and to serve an agenda. We may opt to keep quiet about things that might worry friends and family – plenty of people hide illness. We may avoid mentioning the things that cause shame. How we tell our tales effects how others interpret them and understand us. Are we always the heroes of our own stories, or do we own up to the events that cast us in a less than perfect light? What do we consider newsworthy? Is it actually interesting to those we tell stories to, or do we bombard them with trivia?
Everyone tells stories. Some of us do it professionally, but anyone who interacts with others, ends up telling stories and often those come from recent events in our lives. It’s worth contemplating what it is we choose to tell and why, and what we withhold. When we hear other people’s stories, we have to ponder what they mean us to take from this – is it just to pass the time and amuse, or is there an agenda behind the telling? It’s also worth thinking about the kind of news presented via television, radio and newspaper in the same way. News offered online is even more complex, because everyone has an opinion, but some are better informed than others and it’s not always easy to tell what you’ve got.
No matter the source, not everything you hear is true. Not everything you read is fairly presented. Not everything reported is given objectively, and the most important facts may have yet to emerge. Truth is a slippery fish, but we need to try and grapple with it none the less.