Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Book review: The News, a user's manual. By Alain De Botton.

It's not often that during the whirlwind that is our news gathering lives, involving the day to day dissemination of death, destruction, politicking, unfaithfulness, health and invention of our fellow man, do we think about what it is that we, as news organisations, are actually peddling to the news watching public as they push fish fingers into their offsprings little faces during the tea time bulletin.

The News. A user's manual.

We should be thinking about this a little more.

I came accross Alain De Botton's book online whilst searching for comic references to the news, for as regular readers of this blog will attest, my mind works in mysterious ways when it comes to telling you how i go about my day as a tv news cameraman. A work more about the philosophy of our industry, it delves deep into the psyche of those that gather, report and consume the news.

( You see, even though most of this blog has the gravitas of Spongebob Squarepants, i can sometimes deliver serious material. This post is one. )

I'm glad i found the book. Having read it within 24 hours, i recognised nearly every single sentence it contained. A philosophical book containing references to Greek culture, Shakespeare and Catholic religion is not a book i would ordinarily read, but tie them up with the modern language of the news industry of today and you have a book that will make you think a little differently about how to go about your daily news producing life.

It isn't light reading. I had to stop and think on a page by page basis about what it is that the news industry is about and why we do what it is that we do. Is the news a constant stream of failure, death and destruction? Are we obsessed by health, disaster and celebrity titillation?

Yes, yes it is and yes, yes we are. It's the modern world of news overload.

Why is this and what can we, as news people do about it? This book will make you think about it. Not just as a news professional, but as a person in a wider world where differing culture, expectations and meaning are almost limitless.

The book has resonance for me. Alain writes of an incident in Hampshire where a Father killed his two children and then himself. I was one of the tv news crews that filmed the scene. The deeper meaning and consequences of such an act and the subsequent news coverage is explained by Alain in the book.

I on the other hand, had a different outlook on the scene before me. Desperate not to think too much about what had occurred on the very ground beneath my feet, i turned my attention inward, to something much more mundane.



If reading a book doesn't do it for you in the modern digital world, you can at least watch the video above, a kind of condensed version. Whatever your interest in the news though, be it a reporter, editor, photographer or news junkie, find a way to read the book. I recommend it.

You can get the book HERE.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.