What’s new? Classifying news today

Let us start by saying that news does not “exist”. That is, it is not a commodity to be found out there, somewhere, which just needs some tweaking and chiseling to be presented on paper. If that were the case, we wouldn’t be journalists, but jewel polishers (admittedly, a much better-earning activity).

dewey_defeats_trumanNow, in my philosophical studies I always despised relativism (know your Nietzsche), and yet it’s clear that my news is not always your news, and that news for you is not always news for me. If all news were news for all, we wouldn’t have hundreds of pages to choose from every morning. Perhaps one or two, with the bare facts we didn’t know yesterday, would suffice.

To someone from three or four centuries ago, newspapers would probably look like a madman’s banter (the internet would probably trigger some sort of neural crash): disconnected facts that get old in a mere 24 hours, without even undergoing a proper study. Yet are we so sure that we’re much different from that man? After all, nobody reads every single piece of news on CNN’s website, and then follows its evolution over the days. Rather, we’re much more likely to select a few topics of our interest and dedicate our attention to them. Personally, I’m completely oblivious to what goes on in sports, I more or less know what’s happening in British politics, and I follow closely terrorism and the Syrian civil war. Unless something truly unpredictable happens – most commonly, alas, incidents claiming multiple lives – I’m more likely to be updated on something I’m already following than being exposed to something completely new.

The problem with news is that it’s not really useful per se. What’s useful are updates, new pieces of information on which to make our decisions. But by their very definition, updates are not news – at best, they’re follow-ups. They rarely make the front page. They might be good to keep older readers interested, but cannot draw new ones. The best example is climate change: it’s one of the most, or the most, important issue of our times, and its news traction suffers from tremendous fatigue. It’s usually up to the scientists to find some new angle on which to shake our more alarmist sides. And yet climate change goes on, even when it’s not mentioned on any newspaper.

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How would you like to worry today?

All this talk of how news is essentially a conventional construct might feel like it’s building journalism’s coffin, but actually we should rejoice. If reality is less of a hard core than we thought, it means journalism can, to an extent, decide what’s worthy of the first page. We can choose to make climate change the big news again, to move from the magazine to the front page.

Ultimately, it’s a battle of resilience: will the readers keep reading until they’re educated to the “new news”, or will they let the paper die before it achieves anything? That’s a huge question mark. We writers are on our side of the battle, and we can only keep doing our job.


Wales’ piece of Britain

Cardiff is a capital because Wales needed one.

It was born out of the rails and docks, out of a countryside that got eaten up by the coal industry. Roath, Cathays, Canton, all colonies for a port that rose, boomed and died. It’s a city that wants to play catch-up to London, Manchester, Leeds. Desperate to scrape its industrial vestiges, just like Sheffield, it only spares the mansions and colleges – palaces the elite designed for itself. What was once the symbol of ruthless industrialisation, Tiger Bay, now wouldn’t be out of place in Oslo or Stockholm.

Just like other cities are built on rivers, Cardiff is built on railways. Miles of tracks cut the city in slices, which are then stitched together with walkways. All the rails converge toward the central station, an area still waiting for its promise of regeneration. Squeezed between the Bay and the residential areas sits Butetown, an undefined no-man’s-land of railways and motorways, merely acting as a passage to the waterfront, roads roaring and pavements empty.

The two cities – north and south – are too far to interact, and they prefer to keep each other at a distance. Much is said of Cardiff’s traditional “communities”, and yet the city’s most important buildings – the Parliament, the Millennium Centre – sit on the waterfront, cuddled by the buildings for the new upper class.

20161019_140852 NEW.jpgCardiff is the piece of Britain Wales got stuck with. A city willing to recycle itself, and yet inevitably caught in its industrial past. The dirt and litter remind how it’s far from a perfect example of urbanisation, and how poverty still seeps through the cracks of the shops on Queen Street.

Like the rest of the country, Wales is ambitious, growing and ultimately, uncertain of what it want to be.

Coursemate profile: Becky

Rebecca Kwei comes from Ghana’s capital, Accra. She’s in Cardiff for an MA in Science, Media and Communication, at the renowned School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies.

img_0104editBecky – for friends – isn’t stepping into journalism for the first time. She comes from Ghana’s capital Accra, and she’s worked for Graphic Communications, the biggest news outlet in the country, for ten years. On three different occasions she’s won awards from the Ghana Journalists Association, as the best reporter for health and science issues. She was also awarded the category prize for the best coverage of Millennium Development Goals.

Earlier this year, she was awarded a Chevening scholarship to go study in a Journalism school of her choice. ‘I chose Cardiff University because it was consistently ranked among the top schools in Europe.’ She adds that some of her colleagues in Ghana had already studied there, and encouraged her to enroll.

img_0089editI ask Becky if she has any intention of going back to Ghana after the course is over. She has little doubts. ‘My scholarship requires that I do, but even if it didn’t, I’d still get back. I want to bring my expertise with me, and continue my work in health reporting.’

Becky is due to graduate in September next year.