Soundbites and Headlines

14 12 2009

I don’t read newspapers.

For the editor of a business magazine I suspect that is an extraordinary admission, so let me explain.

The world is a complex place. Issues are not often straightforward. There is frequently more than one side to any story, but more and more, in my view, the newpapers reduce everything to headlines, snippets and catchphrases .

They may well feel that they have to do this to keep pace with the TV news and the web, which together seem determined to reduce everything to soundbite and celebrity.  But, whatever the reason, it does mean that the newspapers no longer provide detailed, rounded comment and reporting on current affairs.

So I read the New Statesman. I don’t expect their coverage to be totally balanced. The journal is left leaning, but it does give full, rounded, detailed coverage and explanation to complex matters such as climate change and world politics.

At least it did.

A couple of months ago I was concerned at their cover story  “The 50 people who matter today”.  A paragraph on each of 50 indivuduals seemed to be at odds with the depth of comment usually found in the magazine. It added nothing to the understanding of the people or the issues for which they had received this recognition.

Then a couple of weeks ago the cover story was ” 20 green heroes and villains”.

Is it such a clear choice?.  Are companies and individuals always one or the other? The National Grid was claimed as a hero solely as when energy expert David Milborrow wrote a report showing that Britain’s energy system is already capable of taking a large amount of wind power, they backed his work.  Is this really enough to be granted hero status?

But that is not really the issue. The issue is with yet more sound-bite debate. And from a journal that I had come to rely upon to fill the gaps left as newspaper reports become all headline and no substance.  Can the climate debate be summarised as collection of heores and villains?

I don’t think so but if more journals go the way of the New Statesman where are we going to get our detailed, useful information from? And if the information isn’t available, how can we have informed debate?