Alain de Botton: The News – A User’s Manual

— “A contemporary dictator wishing to establish power would not need to do anything so obviously sinister as banning the news: he or she would only have to see to it that the news organizations broadcast a flow of random-sounding bulletins, in great numbers but with little explanation of context, within an agenda that kept changing, without giving any sense of ongoing relevance of an issue that had seemed pressing only a short while before, the whole interspersed with constant updates about the colorful antics of murderers and film stars.  This would be quite enough to undermine most people’s capacity to grasp political reality — as well as any resolve they might otherwise have summoned to alter it. The status quo could confidently remain forever undisturbed by a flood of, rather than a ban on, news.”

— “The opposite of facts is bias.”

— “The news may present itself as the authoritative portraitist of reality. It may claim to have an answer to the impossible question of what has really been going on, but it has no overarching ability to transcribe reality. It merely selectively fashions reality through the choices it makes about which stories to cast its spotlight on and which ones to leave out.”

— “For all their talk of education, modern societies neglect to examine by far the most influential means by which their populations are educated. Whatever happens in our classrooms, the more potent and ongoing kind of education takes place on the airwaves and on our screens.”

— “To consult the news is to raise a seashell to our ears and to be overpowered by the roar of humanity.”

— “…without regular contact with poetry, we may lose our vitality, cease to understand ourselves, neglect our powers of empathy or become unimaginative, brittle and sterile. Literature… is the medium that can reawaken us to the world.”

A manual on how to approach and handle the news whether you are at the giving or receiving end; a challenge for “journalists in a hurry” to turn to art; a masterclass in journalism and photojournalism, and of course — because this is Alain de Botton — life.

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