THE irony of my job on Reporting Scotland is that I begin each broadcast with the words, “Good Evening” and more often than not, I spend the next half hour telling the country why the evening is anything but good.
A news programme could never be described as uplifting, dealing as it does with a range of behaviours from point-scoring politicians to man’s inhumanity to man.
A number of years ago, a BBC network newsreader called Martyn Lewis was ridiculed when he suggested that news should be less “doom and gloom” and focus more on happier tales and stories of success. His endeavours earned him a verbal kicking from some of his peers, although he insisted viewers backed his drive to turn that frown upside down.
This week the charity Young Scot, which campaigns among 11 to 26-year-olds, was criticised for advising young people to avoid the news because of “upsetting” stories. It suggested people should “unfollow” news channel accounts, avoid some of the comments’ sections online and instead try to read positive and uplifting stories.
After a backlash, the charity admitted it had made a mistake and that it was merely trying to look after young people’s mental health. You can understand where they were coming from. Online comments’ sections in newspapers and for broadcasters are havens for some of the nastiest and cowardly abuse you can imagine. And yes, newsfeeds themselves rarely leave you with a sense of wellbeing. But ignorance is not bliss.
Researching a programme recently marking Reporting Scotland’s 50th anniversary, I went to a shopping centre to interview passers-by about the news past and present. As you would expect, older viewers had lots of memories of big stories and of the people who had made the news over the decades.
But when it came to chatting to other generations, from teenagers to early 30-somethings, their lack of engagement not only in TV news but in current affairs was surprising.
Many do have their causes and beliefs; the various marches and protests are evidence of that. But I’m not talking about single issues, more a general knowledge that a rounded news programme or newspaper can offer.
I’ll let you into a secret – there are nights when I’m presenting the news when an extremely worthy report can make me want to open an artery, but I’d also argue (of course I would) that to be a thinking member of society having a glance at the news, especially the bits you’re not particularly interested in, is vital to learn about the broader world you live in.
We’ve known for a while that younger people aren’t watching TV news; that they cherry pick their information online.
TV news is currently agonising about how to reach viewers not brought up in the habit of watching evening news programmes, who self-select juicy bits online and ignore the Office of Budget Responsibility in favour of the latest machinations on Love Island.
News will never be able to compete with features and gossip that bring a little light relief, but they’re not mutually exclusive.
I’d argue that in contrast to a warning from a charity that news can make young people upset, the most distressing thing in not taking in a broad range of news in your life – even the boring bits – is that it can make you ignorant and a bit dull, and that’s worse.