More than a statistic

In this week's newsletter, our events director, Haochen Wang, discusses the place of individual stories in a more hopeful news narrative.

As we enter winter, it seems that the weather isn’t the only thing that is increasingly gloomy. Ukraine, Israel, Russia, China, the US, and many other areas around the world perpetually feature in our newsfeeds and the media as sources of upset. Of course, the world isn’t exactly in a desirable state right now, but ‘doom-scrolling’ has become increasingly dominant in our life.

Last Friday, Kamal Ahmed, the ex-Editorial Director of BBC News spoke in Media Society’s first event of the term. Many topics were covered in the insightful conversation, but one that particularly piqued my interest was the perpetual negativity of the news and media today. As we log on to Instagram or tune into the BBC’s various outlets, rarely do we see positive reporting. Moreover, the distinctly ‘journalistic’ tendency to write in a distant and cold manner in search of objectivity somehow seems patronising. Combining the two and it doesn’t paint a good picture: a perpetual hum in the background of news and reporting on how the world is falling to pieces and how families are being torn apart. Indeed, these are surely tragic, and we must not overlook them, but constant exposure equally dampens the effect and leads to bad news becoming the norm.

However, not all is doom and gloom. In face of ongoing war and conflict, and at the risk of making all the deaths seem like “just another statistic”, the reporting trend of particularising into specifics within grandiose geopolitical issues is growing stronger than ever before. It’s one thing to report on the indubitably tragic deaths of any war, but when one focusses on one family, one community, or one vulnerable person, that distance between the reader and the subject becomes much closer. Recently, The Economist’s 1843 Magazine, a publication focussed on long-form features of individuals and stories, published a story about how an autistic boy and his family’s routine life in Ukraine was upended by war. As news consumers in the digital age, it is easier than anything to be overloaded with information, for everything to pass by in a blur as little more than white noise, but perhaps focussing on the individuals might resuscitate us from death by doom-scrolling: a harsh, yet effective reminder that these aren’t just statistics, they’re realities.

And at the end of the rant of cynicism, I encourage a read of the stories of these individuals who, like us, are normal, but face abnormal (to say the least) obstacles. Perhaps then, we might savour our own lifestyles a bit more.

Haochen Wang, Events Team Director

Recommended readings:

1843 Magazine: An autistic Ukrainian boy lived by routine. Then the Russians upended his worldNew York Times: Golan’s Story