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Opinion

How can we sniff out the real news from the bad news?

Modern news coverage is reminding me of the boom in deodorant – no, stay with me, I’ll explain…

For most of the past 18 months I have taken a daily newspaper, or two. I think it’s made me an enemy of the news-making process. A deluge of speculation wrapped up in some important events and developments.

How do you learn to separate the dross from the true stuff you need to know? Or is it an impossibility?

What newspapers seem to suggest is that something is always going wrong. And they may be right. News, like deodorant, is a commodity: in the course of the day you sweat and so you seek out your deodorant; newspapers, in turn, look for the bad news to splash across their pages.

And one thing we can be assured of is that we do sweat. And things do go wrong.

Serious students of the news and events will think I belittle news by comparing it to deodorant. Or any other functional piece of purchase. But I come from a pre-deodorant time, when travelling on the underground or on the bus was a challenge to the nostrils. So the arrival of deodorants was a serious thing in life.

It showed that we were moving towards what was taken to be a more polite place in life. Innovations galore occurred throughout the Fifties. Commodities were multiplying, all largely symbols of progress and some kind of prosperity. Love Island, for instance, grew out of quiz games where ordinary people were allowed on TV demonstrating their aptitudes and abilities, or lack of them. All of this was predicated on the arrival of commercial TV around 1956, which made society more connected and more ambitious to know new things, and use new things.

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And deodorant was slap bang in the middle of this social revolution of products that you could spend your pennies and shillings and pounds on. They even had a social campaign to outlaw the smelly. Advertisements were shown in between programmes on the new commercial telly – no one had had a telly before – that asked of you leading questions. Among them were “Do you smell of BO (body odour)?” and “Does your gravy bring you into food heaven?”

The only problem is that it shocks you – or could shock you – into a numbness. I had to get out of the loop before I became too shocked for comfort

With the world getting more complex, and consumerism really upping your ‘enjoyment of life’ game, of course there was always more stuff for the newspapers to write about. And, of course, there were more TV programmes that alerted you to more problems in the world.

So, what of today? So much has gone wrong in the past 18 months that you would think there was a need to be kept up to speed with these wrongs. That the constant supply of updates was of vital importance to one as an individual.

The only problem is that it shocks you – or could shock you – into a numbness. I had to get out of the loop before I became too shocked for comfort. Before I became convinced that all that was going wrong showed nothing other than how wrong everything was. Or “Sod it. There’s nothing I can do about it so the wrong does not matter.” Weary of wrongness. So I cancelled the papers and tried to keep up with things via radio bulletins, or occasionally news bites on the phone. Little stories that always seemed littered with shit about royal arguments, or Love Island contestants shagging the wrong person.

And then people tell me what’s important in the world. So I carry the big worries around with me: like avoiding mass homelessness, as ventured last week. But also the small worries like “Can I go camping in France next month?”

We are inundated with the need to watch and to hear, through whatever media, who’s shagging who, and which royal is upsetting which royal

I would suggest that we need to find a new way to winnow the big things from the small things that are happening in the world; the wheat from the chaff. At the moment there is a cacophony of contrasting pulls on our eyes and ears. We are inundated with the need to watch and to hear, through whatever media, who’s shagging who, and which royal is upsetting which royal.

That is pure consumerism and not unlike deodorant. A producer getting you buying, at the expense of what’s really important.

Then there is the stuff about what’s going wrong with the world’s leadership. Are the world’s leaders leading us into wars, into bigger fires and floods caused by our destruction of Mother Earth by our consumption-driven lives?

Is there any educated way in which we can fathom the real stuff from the irrelevant stuff? Most of the world is so wired up, causing – I suspect – a vast increase in uptightness, that we will need to put time into our mental wellbeing.

My big issue is still the fear of mass evictions due to the screw-up of the economy by Covid. And add to this, the enormous potential for making major changes – for the good – in education and the fight against poverty. The rekindling of the community and our sense of local responsibility that came out of last year’s lockdown.

So let me end with this: The Big Issue has just launched a campaign and petition to Stop Mass Homelessness, with a nine-point programme to address this most urgent of challenges. Please do go to our petition and give us your support. Let’s winnow the news free of the bull that often accompanies it.

John Bird is the founder and editor in chief of The Big Issue.

Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of losing their homes right now. One UK household is being made homeless every three-and-a-half hours.

You can help stop a potential avalanche of homelessness by joining The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign. Here’s how:

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