Anyone who knows me well will know that I have been obsessed with the news. I could often be found listening to the news bulletins and reading online reports whilst others in the family were watching ‘Love Island’. For Christmas, my daughter even bought me an annual subscription to the ‘Economist’ so I could read even more news behind the headlines as I waited for the next news round.
But lately my obsession has waned, and I wonder if I’ve been happier as a consequence.
My news obsession turned me into a very serious child…
My love affair with the news started when I was 10 years old. My teacher, Mr Morlais Williams had a daily ritual, the news quiz. The idea was that we all had to watch the news the previous evening and then come in with 10 questions based on the headlines. Then he would choose the best 10 questions. I was a very competitive child and always wanted full marks. I would have a bit of a meltdown if I missed the 6 o’clock BBC news but thankfully in those days the next big news of the night was 9 o’clock on BBC so not too late. At a push if I’d had a busy evening I would have to stay up to listen to news at ten with Reginald Bosanquet on ITV.
By the end of my time in primary school watching the news had become a habit. This was an extraordinary time. The early seventies had Vietnam, Nixon, Watergate, the 3 day week in Britain, Power cuts, IRA bombings.
A little later in the 1970’s I moved onto the hard stuff when I started reading the Financial Times. I was studying economics at A Level and the country was an economic basket case. Britain was having a terrible time with Balance of Payments and Inflation which led to the country needing massive support from the International Monetary Fund. Now I expect that confession might surprise you but in the other areas of my life I was still mad keen on football, the Swans and recording music for the Rocket Record Company.
This obsession really came to the fore over the past few years as the whole ‘Brexit’ debate exploded in the media. If anything, I was more obsessed than ever. By this stage not only did we have newspapers, 24 hour rolling TV and radio news, but we also had social media. As each twist and turn in parliament happened, almost instantaneously, my phone would ping with an update from one of the many news media sites I subscribed to. As well as the official media sites I also followed most of the big players in the struggle and when they tweeted that would also cause my phone to vibrate. Some days I would experience phantom phone vibrations causing me to check when there was no update at all.
This is what my news obsession did to me
I’m not exactly sure when I decided to stop. I think it was probably on the morning of the day after the last election. By the time the early results were in it was soon clear that the government would have an overwhelming majority which meant they could do exactly what they wanted to do. There would be no more drama, no more late night votes in the commons with millions of people tuning in for the count. This would be the return of boring politics.
To be honest it was quite a hard habit to break. I would find myself reaching for my phone even thought I had ‘unfollowed’ and unsubscribed from all of the big news sites. It took a few fidgety weeks before I only picked up my mobile to answers texts or calls again. Then it started to occur to me, even though I wasn’t abreast of all of the minutiae of the latest news round, my world kept on turning. I had more time, literally, on my hands and I wasn’t quite so anxious about everything. In fact, I think I was happier not knowing everything!
This week that all changed with coronavirus. Reluctantly I have once again picked up on my old news habit. Instead of the latest figures from the House of Commons votes I now tune in to find out how far the virus has travelled and what are the latest predictions about how serious the situation might become.
The trouble is that with the 24 hour news cycle no longer having Brexit to feed the machine, this possible pandemic fills a gap the media needs. With each news cycle you can feel the whole country get more frightened. If only we could get the news, the information, the advice and avoid the speculation.
I saw a terrific interview this week with the Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. It has been a terrible couple of weeks for Jurgen. Before the winter break his team were unplayable and unbeatable. Now they are losing game after game and finding it hard to score.
At the press conference he was asked for his opinion on the coronavirus. Jurgen was typically very Jurgen. Without actually calling the reporter an idiot he pointed out that he was a football manager. His views on what may or may not happen were no more informed than anyone else in the room, in fact they were irrelevant and nigh on useless. If they wanted to know about the virus and its consequences then they should ask that question to a viral expert or to someone in the government who is hopefully making plans for our safety. I hoped that news editors around the country were listening.
I’m worried that my old addiction is back and back with a vengeance to make up for lost time when I was going though cold turkey. I only hope I can control it this time because whilst I need to know what I need to know, all the rest of the stuff they pump out can lead to despair and that didn’t happen for those weeks when I had a self-imposed news blackout.