Don’t do news, kids

The news, in whatever form you receive it, is likely making you unhappier. Not in the way that many would think — it isn’t particular things such as Trump or Brexit that are the primary cause of this unhappiness effect. It is the way in which events are reported, and the inherent biases of the news media, that lead to unhelpful and somewhat depressing news.

The very definition of news, according to the Oxford Dictionary at least, is “newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events”. Noteworthy means to be either particularly important, or remarkable. Hence, news can be better defined and described as:

Remarkable information, and recent events which are particularly important or interesting

In simpler terms, news is something that doesn’t fit the pattern/trend, and is unique. Therefore, there is an automatic bias towards extreme ideas and information, whether political, social, or economic.

This can manifest itself in myriad ways.

Politics

With regard to politics, this is usually a stronger focus on the far right and the far left, disproportionate to their support. For example, the recent Swedish election, in which the alt-right Sweden Democrats won almost 1/5 of the vote, received significantly more attention in UK and European media than a typical foreign election would. It was a top 3 headline story on BBC news for three separate days, whereas elections of other comparably influential countries have barely gotten any notice.

As this bias towards extreme political ideas increases their coverage unjustifiably, the majority (those with moderate ideas) see more of what they like the least, whether this is on the right or left of the spectrum. Therefore, sadness and gloom are perpetuated more so than if political coverage was organised proportionately.

Society

The media also has a rather unhealthy addiction to extremes within society. As a result of this, we see lots of reporting, usually on a daily basis, reminding us of discrimination, inequality, and homelessness. While these are all important issues, of course, they aren’t as huge as is made out in the news.

The media will use any excuse, such as a new report by a little-known and uncreditworthy organisation, to make these issues seem larger than they actually are. This makes us more unhappy and discontented with society, adding to the overall effect on our state of mind.

Economic

It is the economic stories that are often the most poorly-reported, due to over-simplification and the aforementioned bias towards extreme information.

Consider an ordinary Spring Statement in the UK, released by the Treasury. This is where the Chancellor releases economic forecasts for the year ahead, and comments on the current economic situation and trends, such as productivity, growth, real-terms wage growth, etcetera.

The media’s reporting of this is usually nothing short of hysterical.

Interpreting slight downtrends or forecasts that have been slightly revised down as grand economic crashes, exploring implications in spite of the fact that it isn’t new news, and interviewing unacclaimed and un-noted economists/politicians are favourites of supposedly unbiased organisations such as the BBC.

This shows, then, that even the most neutral of news sources are affected by this bias towards extreme and unrepresentative information.

In addition, the most neutral news sources will always try to represent as many opinions and parties as possible. At face value, this is a good thing. However, the major issue with it is that there is always a greater number of gloomy outlooks on an issue than there are positive views.

This further compounds the sense of unhappiness and discontentment that people feel due to the news.

It is clear, then, that redesign of the typical reporting format is necessary. In order to fix the problems, the media must consider ways in which they can increase the representativity of the news that they report.

This is could be in choosing what to report: for example, organisations should provide time equivalent to the amount of support for a particular party for news about that party. Whether this is based on the popular vote or amount of seats — which are usually different totals — it will help to reduce reporting of the extremes, leading to less anger and division.

This should also involve a change in the way that reporting is conducted about particular issues. Less over-simplification, and the consideration of fewer views — by discarding those held by very few people — will help reduce unhappiness that stems from the news.

In the meantime, however, this adaptation of a popular cliche should suffice as “advice”:

Stay in school and don’t do news, kids.

Politics nerd, policy wonk | Founder, medium.com/politics-fast-and-slow | Editor, politika.org.uk | twitter.com/dave_olsen16 | Policy Paper: https://rb.gy/7coyj

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