You Are What You Read by Jodie Jackson (Unbound)
As I clatter out this post on the deadline – pretty much like any number of journalists are required to do ten times a day, apparently – we’ve just had the European Parliament elections, Trump (ugh) is in the UK , politics seems quite insane and the planet is dying… everything looks so awful I’ve been avoiding the news even more than ever – though this isn’t that easy to do with the way it pops up in my face on Twitter every now and again! I started my avoidance tactics after the Brexit Referendum (refusing to watch the results come in, I went to bed at 8pm) and have carried on ever since. The coverage of the referendum was the tipping point for me, I felt the news had become hugely toxic, reading and watching it made me ill in the end, so I stopped. This hasn’t sat easily with me at all, should I – ostrich like – have my head in the sand like this, or is there another way? Surely there are some good things going on I’ve been missing.
When I was younger I’m sure journalism was much more respected. I knew about Woodward and Bernstein, we all saw ‘The Killing Fields”. Michael Buerk’s reporting from Ethiopia was transformative – this looked like a hopeless story, yet all over the world people took action and raised funds – I may have been just 16 years old at the time yet I remember no cynicism, no cries of ‘fake news’. Journalists reporting hard news stories were generally admired, they put themselves in bad places to report the bad stuff – and we, the news consumer, had faith in them reporting accurately and as objectively as possible. Jackson notes that many going into journalism today still feel the same way. Yet something has changed – many of us turn away from the news, terrible events are all too much to bear, we have what is disturbingly termed ‘compassion fatigue’. Jodie Jackson covers some of the reasons for this in her opening chapters; the effect of perception, misleading reporting, clickbait headlines, how this feeds helplessness and hopelessness in the reader, the way the news makes us despair. In “You Are What you Read” we’re given a greater insight into the psychology of news reporting – why the way the news is now delivered and consumed makes many of us feel so, well, helpless and hopeless!
Jackson has campaigned for the balance of news reporting to change for some time, this book brings together the research and campaigning she’s done around ‘solutions journalism’. This isn’t a term I’d ever heard before, it’s not as simple as only reporting the good news – solutions journalism doesn’t ask that no difficult, disturbing news is reported – clearly this would be ridiculous. What it asks is that ‘problems focussed’ journalism isn’t the only thing we get to hear about.
Jackson suggests – and I found myself agreeing whole heartedly – that the whole rhetoric around “problems versus solutions” should be abandoned; we cannot have one without the other after all. But what could be reported is achievements alongside failures; this can only make us feel less helpless, to see that perhaps things can change, and we can be part of that change. On the day I wrote this review news came out that Waitrose are trialling packaging free food sales. This looks like it’s been quite widely reported, and it may be a small start, but how much better I feel – after all the problem news around plastics – reading this news story about a retailer trying to find a solution, than I do when the problem seems unsurmountable.
Just was we consumers are changing our actions around plastic packaging, we can change our actions around the news we consume. Jackson suggests we refuse to accept that the negative narrative is the only thing worth telling. We can choose our news more consciously, read quality journalism, read beyond the headlines (I did a little fist pump at this, I am immediately suspicious of headlines and have been for years – especially in health stories, it may be because I work in a clinical trials office!). We have to be prepared to pay for content – news organisations ultimately answer to whoever is paying – often via thinly veiled adverts (native content) published for money. We need to hold the media to account – journalism needs an audience, and as the audience may have contributed to the growth of the negative news narrative so we should also be able to steer it in another direction. Our news choices could be part of the solution to the problem – what a hopeful thought.
About The Author: Jodie Jackson is an author, researcher and campaigner.
She holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of East London (UK) where she investigated the psychological impact of the news.
As she discovered evidence of the beneficial effects of solutions focused news on our wellbeing, she grew convinced of the need to spread consumer awareness. She is a regular speaker at media conferences and universities.
Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours and to Unbound for the review copy of the book. Why not go and see what my fellow blog tourers thought? Here they all are: