Why are we so glued to news about a missing Malaysia Airlines plane but so bored with budget shortfalls?
In his new book The News: A User’s Manual, English philosopher and writer Alain de Botton looks for an answer.
The reason we find some news so compelling but other news so dull, he says, is because facts, in the wrong hands, are boring.
“The human mind isn’t very good at grasping big events in bite-sized chunks,” Botton told AAP.
“There’s kind of an assumption that you can tell someone about a major change in government legislation in 170 words.
“But facts alone are pretty boring.”
He said real journalism was the art of shaping facts into something meaningful, that interests and enriches us.
“Anyone can make the Malaysian Airlines disaster interesting, that is just so off-the-scale gripping, the worst writer can make that interesting,” Botton said.
“The real challenge is – can you make budgetary shortfalls interesting? that’s a skill and very few journalists have that.”
The book analyses the kinds of news we like – about politics, world news, economics, celebrities, disasters and consumption.
He argues that news stories frighten, enrage and entertain us. But rarely do we consider how they can make us better people.
All news stories have much deeper meanings, Botton claims.
Murders remind us to stay in control of ourselves and what happens when don’t, while fatal accidents confront us with our mortality, reminding us to cherish our lives.
“News tends to frame issues in such a way as to reduce our will or even capacity to imagine them in profoundly other ways,” he writes.
“Through it’s intimidating power, news numbs.”
* The News: A User’s Manual, by Alain de Botton, is published by Penguin Books, rrp $29.99
* Alain de Botton is in Australia this week holding talks about the book.
Melbourne – 7.30pm (AEDT) at Dallas Brooks Hall, 300 Albert St, East Melbourne.
Brisbane – 6pm and 8pm (AEST) at Lecture Theatre, F509 Queensland University of Technology, Victoria Park Rd, Kelvin Grove.
Sydney – 2pm and 8pm (AEDT) The Sydney Opera House Concert Hall.
HOW DIFFERENT NEWS STORIES CAN ENRICH US:
* Politics – Should help us understand the complex machines of society, intelligently agitate for reform and realistically accept limitations
* World News – Should open our eyes to the nature of daily life in foreign countries beyond moments of bloodthirsty or dramatic crisis to help us humanise the other
* Economic – Should represent the economy and business in terms that stretch beyond cold economic data and evoke the human element behind products to prompt helpful feelings of gratitude, righteous anger, guilt and awe
* Celebrity – Should promote the most admirable people of our era and guide us as to how we can draw inspiration and advice from them
* Disaster – Should demonstrate how exposed we are risk of sudden death or injury to evoke feelings gratitude and generosity for every pain free hour
* Consumer – Should direct us to those services and objects which stand the best chances of answering our underlying aspirations for a fulfilled existence.
(Source: The News – A User’s Guide, by Alain de Botton)