Is it too late to wish people Happy New Year? It’s a question that increasingly troubled me as the first weeks of 2016 flew by.
Where’s the cut off point when it comes to opening an email with ‘Hope you’re well and New Year was good’? Seven days after the return to work? The Friday before Blue Monday? After all, nobody gives a shit if you once wanted them to have a great festive break when the most depressing day from all 365 lands. In fact, it almost sounds like you’re taking the piss- like asking a bereaved spouse if they had a good one at the funeral.
Given we’re almost in February at least this is one thing to stop worrying about now. All sights are set forward, on the weeks and months that will make up this latest calendar. Thus far it’s a blank slate, too, meaning this could be the best year of my life. So why is there an overbearing feeling that, at best, we’re all staring down the barrel of another slog that’s set to repeat depressions of the past?
Perhaps it’s because 2016 has brought little other than terrifying news. The British government wants non EU migrant workers to earn £35,000 per year, minimum, to have a chance of staying on our hallowed shores. That’s some paycheque, considering the national average currently sits at £27,000. In London the figure hits £35,000, just, but the metropolis only represents one sixth of the country’s population.
Aside from this, people are also talking about Sending Them Back To Where They Came From, if They can’t talk English proper. The concern being They might be more likely to harbour extremist views without a good grounding in RP. Daily Mash’s take on this was priceless as per, suggesting Newcastle may soon empty out because of the regional accent. Meanwhile, student grants have finally been buried in the endless pile marked ‘stuff we used to have’, and in other xenophobic news Big Dave Cameron reckons he’d support schools and colleges if they wanted to stop students wearing veils.
Welcome to the future, then.
Yet none of this is what’s really making me feel so concerned about a year that could still be amazing, but probably won’t quite manage it. Instead, it’s the growing and potentially dangerous distrust of the media that appears omnipresent.
The truth is that bias is everywhere in the press. But it also always has been. The issue is now we seem to be forgetting how to deal with that bias. It’s no news that The Daily Ruperts have a serious allegiance to forces I’m not that buzzing about. Nobody should be shocked when a certain Mail publishes another tragically toxic rant about overseas arrivals. But the fundamental criticism behind both those examples can be fired in other directions too.
Facebook’s Feed seems to be filled with references to a ‘mainstream’ news behemoth that is somehow worse than the ‘alternative’ press. I say define those terms properly before trying to make that point. Where would you place the likes of Vice within the spectrum, now one of the most read outlets in the world? It rarely comes in for the same bashing as the BBC, unless, of course, you prefer current affairs with a side order of conservatism, in which case Vice is just another scourge of the modern world- always looking to support ideas at odds with everything your blue-tied allies think.
Without wanting to sound like some drunk magician spilling the beans about how tricks are done, the press works in a similar way to any other industry. There is demand, supply feeds that demand, eventually supply alters to match a change in demand, and the cycle continues. Investors have agendas, editors have opinions, advertisers have expectations and requirements- as do ‘stakeholders’, of which you, as a reader, are one of the most important. In some instances, the owners of publications have chosen some dodgy bed partners, but to throw the baby out with the bathwater is definitely not the solution.
Let’s skip forward a decade or so, and should the current trend continue we, the people, will no longer believe anything we read. But then how can anything matter in that model? And, if nothing matters then nothing gets read, so how do we expect vital information to spread? Of the other options that could feasibly replace journalism- citizen reporters, bloggers, miscreants with Twitter accounts- I’ll take my chances with those paid the money required to spend at least some time conducting basic research, and those able to dedicate the hours needed to follow a story, rather than some guy who has decided to register a domain name.
None of which is to say that we should place unequivocal trust in the ivory tower, or the ‘alternatives’. Each has an agenda and a discourse- hence your average Mail reader loathing The Guardian, and vice versa. The solution, then, is to remember that age old mantra- take two opposing sides of the coin, combine, add a little intelligence on your own part and somewhere there lies honesty. And that isn’t meant to degrade or disrespect those that do my job, only far better. Journalists willing to stick their head above parapets to ask real questions about real issues are a necessity, and this is before we come to the dwindling number reporting from conflicts and other dangerous situations. But everything is published for a specific audience. Please, then, let’s not be so foolish as to consume whilst forgetting how to digest.
Martin will be back and most likely equally troubled by things in the near future.