There is a city named Winchester, just north of Southampton in the south-central area of the United Kingdom. Few people out of the southern bubble know that it exists, because for all intents and purposes it is fundamentally irrelevant to national politics. The local MP is bafflingly uninteresting, the local schools are pristine grade machines, the high-street is well kempt and the nearby Jane Austen museum continues to draw the odd white sock-wearing tourist party. Since the end of Ælfrǣd The Great’s ninth century reign, Winchester has not seen much happen beyond wheelie bin theft. In spite of this, if you read The Hampshire Chronicle you would think Winchester the centre of the world.
Local news serves an important function, it reassures us that our experiences matter. Whether it is Wiltshire’s Gazette & Herald working itself into a tiff about Terry Wogan’s recent appearance at a farmers’ market, the return of missing raccoon Shadow in Manchester Evening News or The Tab exercising “innovative” journalistic standards in trawling through Yik Yak for all the latest gossip – we are obsessed with this idea that our own lives are somehow ‘news’.
Without becoming too meta, student journalism can end up as one of the worst offenders in this debate. We blow up and recycle coverage of total non-issues, and through the reverberations on social media give the impression that this is somehow a ‘big deal’. Whether in being deliberately antagonistic and purposefully misinterpreting EUSA’s policies on Safe Space in order to manufacture a ‘debate’ about freedom of speech, or creepily stalking through electoral candidates’ private lives to try and dig up dirt for dubious smear campaigns – we can end up so enraptured in our own little worlds that we lose all perspective.
A friend once piped up that he did not read international news stories because “there’s f’ all I can do about it”, and this idea that the news can become a pornographic blur definitely has some basis. However, in an increasingly connected world, we need to move away from the idea that the local, national and international are somehow separate spheres. We need to make the links between events, instead of categorising and relegating them to their prescribed pigeon-holes. Even if there is, admittedly f’ all we can do about the world at large – it is not as if we should not care beyond the parish boundaries, and it is not as if the outside world cannot have an impact on us.
If it is hard to care about international news we need to incorporate the two, local and international together. Instead of providing dubious coverage of international affairs which sees other countries homogenised and reduced to a projected narrative, we could do better to humanise and appreciate their nuances. In our coverage of the ‘Middle-East’, a term so vapid that it has no real world meaning, we cast aside the experiences of millions in favour of more easily digestible copy.
Instead of local news being a vain anaesthetic, it should be about getting communities involved in causes which are bigger than themselves. We need to convince people that we can have an impact beyond our microcosmic experience, otherwise we risk slipping into a situation where war crimes are pushed to the back page as Doris’ discovery of an urban fox splashes across the headlines. On March 29, “ACT!” are trying to do just that with an all-day festival – enabling and facilitating local involvement in big issues, stressing that we should be involved in shaping our community rather than switching off in passive consumption and apathy.