Friday, August 12, 2022

What's Real

Dropcentre Tram
photo credit: John Ward, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As far back as memory, books and bookshelves! Being read to when very young stimulated voracious reading when older. In late childhood, the weekly routine included a Saturday morning tramway ride to the not-so-local public library, which invited further reading interests. 

Hours were spent in the library, lost in the stacks of books, novels, short stories, poetry, criticism, local and international newspapers, and magazines or journals about whatever held interest at the time, like astronomy, the season's sport, looking after pets, and later, books on history, rhetoric, or propaganda.

The morning spent leafing through titles had to conclude well before the mid-day closing time, to stand in line with everyone else, and hear the librarian quip about each item as it was checked out--to join that week's ration of the most books able to be carried, for the journey home on the rattling tram. 

These older trams were called "bone-shakers" for a reason. Each weekday, it was an experience to also travel by tram to school. 

Most passengers rushed first to occupy the never large enough, enclosed cabins at each end of the tram. It was the unlucky or the undaunted, who found a location on the middle platform between the cabins--to sit in the open-air on wooden-slat seats, or stand hanging on to leather straps overhead--some of us were glad to feel the breeze as the tram picked up speed, others just grudgingly thankful to be underway to some destination. And all of us exposed to the traffic noise and exhaust fumes, the wind, the tropical sun, or rain squalls, in the hot or cold that the seasons brought, for the six-mile journey each way.

Some of the undaunted, while standing and swaying to the curves of the road, or jerking with stops and starts along the route had mastered reading newspapers or books one-handed. The more social passengers talked and laughed, strangers as they met, to become firm acquaintances and possibly meet again on later travels.

Through travel experiences never ideal, people were mostly good natured and helpful, looking out for one another--alerting the tram-driver to wait up by pulling the bell cord sharply, when children, or the elderly, or someone unwell, or with larger packages needed extra time boarding or alighting. Strangers looked out for strangers, with some sense of care and safety enveloping everyone.

Maybe you have memories that are different yet feel basically similar to times like this. Whether realities experienced are long past or recent, memories are a touchstone to what's real--but any day in our experience will be very different from a great many stories in the daily news. 

Connotations and the texture of words matter to capture what's real. We know that understanding these qualities in words is learned gradually over time, through listening or reading with care and attention to the nuance of words. For anyone in the business of news, this is well understood.

Yet how damaging is the intoxication to write news stories that repeat verbatim so many delusions of the outrageous, the trivial, and the bizarre--repeating ad nauseam the hyperbolic words of media releases. Today's media inherited from the continuously declining tabloid press the reward of urgency and conflict-based stories, or "balancing" one set of opinions against another.

Some gatekeepers in the mainstream media and journalists are taking responsibility to pursue a more constructive approach to deliver news. For this "constructive journalism," the media only report comment from politicians that is evidence-based and can be evaluated by "pegging their words back to reality."

References:

Peter Pomerantsev (2019), This Is NOT Propaganda, London: Faber and Faber, p. 239 (on constructive journalism)

John Zada (2021), Veils of Distortion, How the News Media Warps our Minds, Toronto: Terra Incognita