Guys, we need to talk; or rather, we need to have a conversation. Actually, we need to have loads of conversations, about some really important things.
We need to have conversations about stuff like the EU, immigration and civil rights, conversations about who we are and what we stand for, and conversations about how to reconcile our differences. The problem is, that it’s impossible to have a levelled and reasoned conversation about difficult topics because ‘tabloid press’.
‘Tabloid’ newspaper such as The Daily Mail and The Sun get their name from being small and compact. They are the opposite of ‘broadsheet’ newspapers, which, as the name suggests, are physically big (broad) sheets of paper, examples include The Observer, or The Telegraph. A broadsheet newspaper has space to explore a story, and can give full insight behind a headline, whereas a tabloid has a limited amount of column inches to devote to each news item, and this is where the begins.
If you’ve only got 'x' amount of space to tell a story, then it’s easy to go with the most attention grabbing piece of information and leave all the nuanced conversation out of the report.
Similarly, rather than explaining things fully, it’s a lot easier to depend on your reader to fill in gaps. This is where things begin to get dangerous and stories become warped because they rely on readers to fill in the gaps with their own assumptions and stereotypes using trigger words.
For example, writing Muslim Extremist Strike Again in big letters across the front of a newspaper confirms everything a reader might think they already know about an individual, their motives, and the demographic they come from, and reinforces a link between ‘muslims’ and 'extremists’. Whereas a more measured response might shine a light on the complicated background of an individual who might have issues with their mental health, or be struggling to feel integrated into their community, or have been brainwashed and have found a sense of belonging in fundamentalism.
This difference in approaches are the difference between trying to understand the root causes of the problems we face; and either begin the process of fixing them, or accelerates any anger about our problems as fingers start getting pointed.
This way of reducing new stories to their most basic, crass, elements is really problematic, and is getting in the way of balanced debate in the UK.
Unfortunately, it is not limited to tabloid newspapers, our politicians and social commentators are doing it too. The path of public debate in the lead up to the EU referendum really shocked me. Leaving the EU is a MASSIVE deal, and will have deep and long lasting ramifications for communities and sectors across the whole UK. It is a very complex debate covering sovereignty, trade, accountability, social investment, world history and world future.
You would never have guessed that the conversation is so complicated from reading our tabloid press. The whole debate has been squeezed into a few ridiculous flashpoints, such as bringing back blue passports, or bendy cucumbers. Both of these stories are framed as being important to British identity, or the ineptitude of the EU, but what they really do is confuse the conversation, and make it difficult for important points like the future of our trade links and EU investment in infrastructure to shine through.
Similarly, shouting about immigrants and refugees being offered housing for themselves and their families masks the very real problem of a lack of good quality affordable housing and horrible government policy of selling off council properties.
When you read a story about an immigrant family being offered a £2 Million house, the problem is not that they are being offered a house, it is the fact that the property market is in such a dire state that house are now worth £2 million.
All of this is made worse by 24 hour news cycles. In order to fill airtime, news agencies end up reporting on these same sensationalised headlines, and we hear three or four misinformed headlines repeated several times throughout the day across a million different social platforms, raising tensions, fears and, suspicions through that process.
It is this loop that stops us having proper conversations. Legitimate concern or apprehensions which could have been discussed and talked through, become massive angry walls that people stand behind without listening, and skews our national debate in ways that don’t seem to fit our national psyche. We need to find a new way of talking to each other, outside of the sensationalist tabloid press, with conversations based on facts, REAL facts, and not on opinion or emotion.
The problem is that boring facts don’t sell newspapers, or make good airtime. It’s up to us to step out and start this for ourselves. Arm yourself with facts and compassion and go out and break down some walls, have a conversation, you might just make a difference.