Have you ever thought about how you know about the world? I've been thinking about it recently, and about how that affects what I know and how I feel about it.
I don't really watch commercial/free-to-air television anymore. That's where I used to watch the news and catch the updates and any breaking stories. I occasionally flick to ABC News 24 but Dear Boy has learned to flick back to ABC 4 Kids. I only listen to the radio in the car, so I very rarely catch the news on the hour every hour. I don't read a physical paper anymore like I used to when I had long train commutes to work from the front cover to the back (okay - I didn't go all the way to the back - I've never read a sports section). Every few days I read ABC News online, looking at the main stories and scanning the headlines of the major sections.
But here's the thing - I scan. I select and choose what I'm going to read and learn more about.
I skip the car accidents, the house fires, the flooding, the earthquakes - essentially all the human misery stories because there's so much of it and I reach my saturation point pretty quickly these days. I skip Sport entirely and hardly ever read stories from the Business section. I click to the World news but hardly read more than the main stories - Korea talks, protests in Turkey, tougher Swiss asylum laws. I skip the bombings just about everywhere.
But this week I've been caught by twin stories where I wasn't enitrely sure why I clicked and read more, essentially why I cared more about those than the others. Both Nelson Mandela and David Attenborough are in hospital. Both are old, both are famous, both are men. Why does it matter to the world that they're sick and most likely close (or much closer) to dying? I've been thinking about the answer to that and the conclusion that I came to is both have been influential in different ways and become symbols for something much more than themselves. Neither are perfect but both men's imminent mortality offers a chance to reflect on issues that are important to humanity. Justice, duty, humility, hope, science, environmentalism, the interconnected-ness of natural systems.
They become the focal point of bigger, necessary discussions. And I want to be a part of those discussions.
But there are many, many discussions I am choosing not to know, to contribute to, through my selection of the news. I am choosing what I know. I'm not sure that makes me a good citizen.
As a former journalist, I'm probably more aware than the average person about just how constructed 'news' and our information on the world is. Anyone who reads the paper and internet, watches and listens to broadcast news, and even follows various news services in social media, has had their view of the world constructed. Journalists and editors have, firstly, chosen what they consider to be the news and rejected other stories in favour of them. Secondly, they have ordered the news according to a set of news values based on timeliness, proximity, frequency, impact, conflict, etc. Thirdly, their mode of delivery affects how they present that information - 30 seconds, 1 minutes, matched to available audio or pictures, half an hour, three column inches. Finally, they write the news according to their own subjectivities because as much as journalists strive for objectivity the words they choose to use, the order they put them in reflects their own ideas about the subject.
Layered on top of all of this is the reality of how journalists actually find the news. Ever thought about how they know about the world? News agencies deliver them world news, again pre-chosen, pre-prepared; they scan the emergency services waiting for crashes and fires and crimes (trust me, I've been there, wishing for ugliness to happen so I can fill a five minute bulletin); people call in information - politicians are especially good at this, pouncing on any occasion to call in and offer their opinion; and then there are press releases. Anything that isn't immediate, that isn't an accident is usually generated by a press release from an individual or organisation's press office. It's been planned and scanned and prepped and crafted and then sent out.
But you know what? News has pretty much been this way. Letters sent from overseas and delivered by boat, telegraphs, cables finally stretching across the Atlantic, radio, telephones, television, internet... all of it has meant journalists are delivering second hand news, and delivering it after the fact.
But now, quite a lot of us aren't consuming the news in the same way. We aren't taking in the whole bulletins or reading the whole paper. We're picking and choosing based on our own ideas of what's important. That's kinda scary because I know how much I want to shut out what is ugly. I know that most people seek out information from sources that just reinforce our existing opinions. When it comes to world, it's now more about what we want to know than what we need to know.
With the election coming up in September I am trying to take in a wider variety of information and sources. It won't change who I vote for (not that this matters much in my electorate, which seems to be the safest Liberal seat in the country, regardless of my views on the subject) but it'd be nice to know what the different sides are saying. Okay, maybe 'nice' isn't the right word.
What do you choose to know and choose to ignore about the world?