Perhaps, if I didn’t spend so much time alone, I might have found a less cheesy title for this blog. Creativity is a collaborative endeavour, after all. But the title sticks and it vaguely describes the activity involved. Solitude has its compensations. I have my own routine when it suits, and when it doesn’t I don’t. There are very few occasions when I need to be somewhere. I can read when I want. And write.
I write reluctantly or hesitantly, apologetically even. Guardian journalist and author of Another Day in the Death of America, Gary Younge is right to observe that the media is increasingly given over to opinion and less to reporting, which is expensive… “as journalists we should report. What we are tasked with doing is giving a sense of what is happening, and in part thanks to the fact that all you need is Wi-Fi, we have an awful lot of commentary, but not so much reporting.” The world might be better served with more or better reporting. Another opinion is unlikely to do much for the sum of human happiness.
Younge bears witness to the young Americans who die each day because the US media and political interests refuse to bear witness to the impacts of poverty, welfare reform, deindustrialization, and globalisation on communities across its major urban centres. It’s as if parts of the US were a foreign country, or could simply be written out of the story, where “the media has failed to establish empathy”.
What is true in the US is true in the UK too. I live in in Scotland and have been professionally involved with the media for some 30 years. In that time I have watched as mainstream media and politics has moved towards representing the interests of an increasingly narrow constituency as though that narrow perspective represented the norm, or indeed the totality of legitimate perspectives.
The problems facing the Chancellor on budget day may seem trivial compared with US gun violence. But on March 8 the BBC’s Today programme claimed that “it is the fact that we have all been spending more… that means the Chancellor could spend more himself if he wanted to”, which is nonsense. It is untrue that the UK economy is resilient and untrue that higher consumer spending reflects the behaviour of all consumers. It is untrue now and likely to be more so in the future as household incomes stagnate and inequality and childhood poverty grow. Yet all of the reporting following the budget and into the following week focused on a proposed and now scrapped tax rise for the more affluent among the self-employed.
This is a blog about news and politics and empathy. I write not because I am any kind of expert in empathy. I have been, for 30 years, part of a culture that has often forgotten, I think, how to take the perspective and understand the emotions of others. I write because I think we live in a culture that finds it harder than ever to respect the views of others. Perhaps I am more aware now of that loss. This blog is part of my work to recover a proper sense of empathy. I want to get it back because I think it is not the news, or the politics, but people who are important.