Bad news: Good News Week is cancelled. The words "good" and "news" do not sit well together. Mostly, what makes news is the inverse of what we would call good. The news is often the details of a bad thing that has happened to someone you don't know in a location you could not point to on a map. The distance between that place and your place is populated with a zillion stories of good things happening to strangers, but no-one cares about them. Good things happening to other people just reminds us that others are doing better than we are. A litany of other people's misfortunes, on the other hand, reinforces the notion that we are luckier, or more skilful and intelligent than other people, and that makes us feel good. Paradoxically, bad news is what puts a spring in our step, as long as that bad news isn't happening to us.
Just last week, Charles Moore of the Daily Telegraph was bemoaning the lack of good news in the nation's media. It was one of those "why, oh why" columns that berated the preponderance of the bad stories at the expense of the good. You would have thought that as big a cheese as Moore would be in a position to affect a change in that regard. If the ex-editor of the Spectator and the Daily and Sunday Telegraph can't persuade the media to stick something jolly in their coverage, then our news outlets must be a pretty moribund lot indeed.
His was not an original thought. Martyn Lewis, the ex-news reader said as much twenty years ago. He was castigated as something of a buffoon by the people whose job it was to fill empty pages with stories of misery and rage. The prevailing wisdom then, as now, was that the public are not interested in good news. You will not see a detective programme on television in which a murder is prevented form happening due to the diligence of the police. However, you can hardly switch on any channel, day or night, without bumping into some homicidal maniacs going about their gory business in high definition and surround sound. It is news if some stranger gets killed in the next town, it is not news that your next door neighbour slept through the night un-assailed.
The public do not care about your petty triumphs and little successes, they only become interested in your dull little life if something graphically horrible happens in it, preferably with pictures. That is what we are lead to believe by those that are dishing this stuff up. But what if the people only consume this type of news because that is all that they have had given to them? What if there was a source of good news that they could read instead? Let's try it and see how far we get.
You know those giant billboards that tell you that your life is incomplete because you do not own the right car? They warn that you are a bad parent because you have not taken your children to Altonlegothorpeland and that your mouth is an embarrassment due to your erroneous toothpaste selection? Well, for a few glorious weeks this summer they will be given over to art. For free. You will even be able to have a role in selecting which British art works will be displayed. It is not even a few poster sites taking part, it is 15,000 of them and they will be all over the land and they will not try to sell you anything and they will delight the eye and prettify up the place. Even the Goldhawk Road may look nice. Sorry, got carried away there - of course it won't, but you get the idea.
How about this: those Tube journeys you suffer through at the start and end of your working day may actually be making you stronger. Up to now, the received wisdom was that your squashed in, coughing and sneezing compatriots are passing on their icky, sticky germs and laying you low. Now we learn that those that pack themselves into trains and buses do not get sick more than those that do not, in fact the reverse is true. The thinking is that being exposed to more germs helps to build greater immunity. The Tube is doing you good. How about that for good news?
Then there is the proposal from a cross party commission of MPs and peers that bankers be made to wait ten years to get their hands on any bonuses they are due. This might help them to act in the long term interests of their company and not concentrate on making as much money as they can as quickly as possible and to Hell with the consequences. Short termism is partly what got us into this dire economic state, so long termism might just be a way out.
That is a pretty good start. All good news. But I can feel that smile slowly twisting back to its default position. I detect the start of a grimace. I can't help myself. I must unleash my inner Daily Mail.
Good news? Pah! The art on those posters will be all that modern rubbish, or dead people on horses, or paintings of views - and I HATE views. Those sneezing wheezers on the Underground are killing me, I can feel it and no scientist will persuade me otherwise. And as for the bankers - nice try, no sale. Those City swells will say that they'll be off on the next flight to Zurich if we even think of delaying their rewards and they will take all their fresh, delicious money with them. The government will say they tried and they will leave the suggestion flapping on the floor like a dying mullet.
There, that's better. Positive stories are a weak cup of lemon tea. Negative stories are the tincture that starts the blood boiling, gets us angry and makes us feel alive, until the rage gives us a heart attack and we become the very thing that did us in: the news.Suggest a correction