Monday, 2 April 2012

Real News

Every morning I log onto Google news to see what’s happening.  I steal a quick glance at Gilly’s Guardian. The other day I realised that I was just looking for excitement, that I wanted to gloat at someone’s misfortune or cringe in anxiety at what the Iranians either were or were not doing. Maybe it has to do with endorphins or dopamine or something like that; I seem to need my morning fix of excitement.

News media have to fill their pages or their air time with something. And to be fair, I have colluded in this when I worked as a journalist in my younger days. Nothing scares an editor like a blank Page One.

In my first newspaper job, the editor of the small weekly in a coastal town told me to go over to a nearby shrimping dock and get the local news. A lot of old guys were sitting in the sun, some re-weaving nylon nets, others just talking. Being young and optimistic, I went directly to a man and told him I was from the newspaper and wanted any news he might have.  He just shook his head.  I tried it again with two or three more with the same result.  I drove back to the office and told the editor there wasn’t any news.

          “Get back over there and stay till you’ve got a story,” he said, not smiling.

           I went back and left my notepad in the car. I sat on a bench, watching a man in a stained undershirt repairing a huge yellow net, using a wooden tool I had never seen before. He noticed me watching, and I asked him if I could come closer and see what he was doing. I forgot about the news and began to learn a lot about how to make a sheet bend knot. The man’s name was Oscar, and he talked ceaselessly.  About the port, about the problems people were having with osmosis on their new fibreglass shrimp boats, and how the old wooden ones were better. How the new government quota system had caused two brothers to sell up and move to Rocky Mount.  How the fire in the back of the café had made them have to drive five miles to buy their Cuban sandwiches for lunch. Who had gotten married and who had run off with whom and who was carrying a shotgun in his boat in case he spotted the man who cuckolded him. About the shark that had been caught in someone’s net, and when opened up had been found to contain a human hand in its stomach.  Did anyone have a picture?  Sure, just ask Jimbo Jacks at the chandler’s shop. I went back to the newsroom with more stories than I could use in three issues and a grainy picture of an open shark’s belly.

           Every morning, the Indian spiritual master Meher Baba used to have read out to him what he called the “bogus news”. This was the ordinary run of headline news, which might become history someday—but probably wouldn’t. Then he liked to hear the real news, about how people around him were doing.  There was always plenty of that.

           The real news is always out there if you know how to look for it.

 (A version of this post appeared on the BBC College of Journalism blogsite)


  1. Art - these are really lovely pieces. Have they been collected? I'll be sneaking in and chewing on these regularly. You're a lucky man Art - you can write, and you're married to one of the sweetest people on earth.

  2. Thanks, Mystery Girl. I'll tell Gilly you said so.