Thursday, April 29, 2010

News or Noise?

Has 'The News' Become
Just More 'Noise'?

Does the average person really need to know all the 'news' that they are bombarded with every day, or has it just become more noise?

Back in the day when the 'news' paper was the main source of keeping informed, a once a week publication served the needs of the average person and even then not everyone was a news junkie. Many were able to keep abreast of events which actually affected them by talking to their friends and neighbours.

Now, news has become big business and 'dead air' is something that can't be accepted if you are to stay in business. The news, has become the same as any other form of entertainment offered by the media and make no mistake, if there was not money to be made, there would be no news programming.

The owner of a newspaper chain I used to work for, described news as something you used to fill up the space around the advertising! The same applies today, even if most righteous publishers are not that honest.

No longer, can we settle for hearing the 'news' on a weekly basis, we can get the paper delivered daily, listen to the news on the radio every half hour, see the news on television at noon, supper time, bed time, and all day long on some networks, you can search the internet for very specific news about just about any topic you can imagine, anytime you like.

So, what is the result of all this NEWS being made available all the time? Are we better informed citizens being able to take a more educated role in our society? Do we actively participate in matters of governance more now than we used to? Are we more aware of how our elected officials are making decisions that will affect our daily lives and pocketbooks?

Or has the News simply become so much Noise that we choose to simply Tune it Out?

Over 30 years ago my wife and I took a once in a lifetime vacation and spend a whole month in Hawaii. During that time I made the conscious choice to not read any newspapers or watch any news broadcasts. This was quite a feat for someone who read the paper on a daily basis.

When we returned home after the month away, when I picked up the paper to get caught up, I noticed something: the names in the headlines perhaps had changed, but the news was still the same old, same old it had been the month before we left.

It was simply a catalog of how some no-good politician or some other public figure had done something scandalous again. Or perhaps it was a report on yet another natural disaster in some corner of the world. Or maybe yet another financial crisis as inflation or deflation was ravaging the economy. More stories about why taxes had to go up yet again and on and on and on it went.

It was probably then that I started to wonder if the NEWS really was new? Or was it just a record of events which keep on repeating themselves, with different players alright, but the 'show' stays the same.

How to Deal With the NEWS?

We have probably become so desensitized with all the News which really isn't the news that we ignore the news, which really is the news that does matter. Participating in local government matters is an area of life far too important to be left to elected officials and civil servants. This is perhaps the one level of government over which you can exercise the most influence that will have a direct effect on your life.

To a lesser degree you can influence provincial and federal governance but never to the same degree as you can municipal government policy. This is the level of government which very definitely will respond to the wishes of the people, providing the people actually participate in the process.

If you doubt that, consider how many decisions your local city council has made when a handful of people show up at a council meeting with an agenda. We got to keep chickens again with barely a 'peep' of disagreement. We are still the only city in the province which pays extra to have female guards in our local police station.

The point is, we ALL can participate in the process, if we take a little bit of time to get informed. To that end we need to realize that the local media and that includes this little blog, are no substitute for personal involvement. For example, instead of just reading what the local news reporter has to say, why not attend a council meeting in person. If you can't attend in person, watch the broadcast live on Shaw or you can see the archived video of meetings at the city website.

When we read yet another headline which shows the absolute contempt elected officials have for the general public, instead of throwing our hands over our ears and tuning out, we need to let them know we ARE listening and we do CARE what they are doing.

A recent example of this level of contempt was the half million dollars council gave to retiring city manager Jerry Berry. You can bet that if they did not hold the average taxpayer in absolute contempt they never would have agreed to such an outlandish settlement. However, the public has proven them right once again, since there has barely been any repercussion save a few howls here and there.

There was a time, if a city council pulled such a stunt they would have been tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. Yet when it did happen in Nanaimo, there was barely a whimper from the good townsfolk.

It could be that we are just all 'newsed' out and the news, has just become more of life's daily noise, which we choose to tune out.


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