What is news-worthy?

One reason I don’t read the news is because it always leaves us with the constant impression that everything is turning worse.

Let us consider two events in a city. First – about a 100 borewells are installed in the city’s poorest parts to supply its residents with fresh water. Now these borewells don’t bring about a sudden improvement in the lives of the residents. But over 10 years, the fresh water they supply saves time by being close at hand. They save bundles of money that would otherwise have gone into purchasing water. Further, the wells save lives by preventing diseases.

All of these benefits are only visible in the long-term, and notice how none of them are news-worthy. You can bet that there would be no news article to state how many lives the borewells saved from water-borne disease.

Now let’s say that a large fire in a godown wipes out a large portion of the city’s grain supply. It would take about 3 months for relief to arrive, and for the situation to be sorted out. This event would set the city back a little, but in time, its resilient residents abosrb this disruption to their lives and move on.

You can bet that the fire in the godown would have made front-page news in the city. Lengthy articles would explain how the building’s faulty wiring was the cause, and the chaos ensuing the ‘disaster’. Further, there would be stories about individuals who are deeply affected by the tragedy.

We now start to notice a pattern. That which is news-worthy has to be both sudden and significant. It must also be an event that has occurred, and not something that is prevented. If an alert employee had prevented the fire by replacing some faulty wiring in the building, it would not have made front-page news.

However, it is mostly negative developments that are sudden and significant. Positive developments are gradual. The world inches forward every single day, and over the years, this progress compounds to substantial improvements, none of which are news-worthy. Also, the world progresses by preventing tragedy. And prevention, though it is better, isn’t as news-worthy as the cure.

The news is filled with godown fires, to the neglect of borewells, schools, hospitals, seat-belts and every other small advancement that we ought to celebrate. Subscribing to the news is akin to dialining into the police or the fire-brigade’s hotline. It is an endless stream of alerts and emergencies.

A hotline of emergencies they one can do nothing about. Is there a better recipe for feeling cynical and helpless?

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