Sometimes news is too bad to read
You would be surprised at how many people tell a newspaper editor that they just can’t handle the news anymore. They’d rather look away than know what’s going on, because what they read in our pages or see on their screens or watch on TV is just too awful.
I get it. I’ve begun to cringe whenever a news bulletin appears on my phone, or when an editor walks into my office and says, “Hey, get this...” I’m in the business of covering the news, but lately it’s hard for me, too — for all of us — to absorb the blows from one event to the next.
Twenty people die suddenly — including four sisters from one family, and their husbands — when a stretch limousine filled with friends out for an autumn weekend outing crashes into an embankment. We can hardly bear to think of the holes in the hearts of their loved ones.
Devastating hurricanes — Florence and then Michael — kill dozens and destroy thousands of homes across Florida and the Southeast. In Indonesia, 2,000 people are dead and 5,000 missing after an earthquake and tsunami devastate an island. We struggle to imagine what it must be like to lose everything but your life, and to yet carry on. And it’s not as though other news lets up amid such tragedies. After creating record audiences for cable TV newscasts, people on both sides of America’s political divide remain furious over the path toward confirmation of our newest Supreme Court justice. Revenge is vowed. An election season is giving jitters to people who take civic matters seriously. The close races underscore how far apart our political lives have been torn, leaving us to worry that the next two years and beyond could be as turbulent as the last two. An ongoing investigation of the 2016 presidential race keeps turning up troubling suggestions of corruption. So far, 37 people have been indicted; four associates of the president have pleaded guilty to unrelated crimes, including the president’s former national security adviser and his campaign chairman. And speaking of news you’d rather not read, consider the Oval Of week fice visit this of the entertainer Kanye West, who told the leader of the free world that time does not exist and that he is not, in fact, suffering from bipolar disorder, but is just sleep deprived. I, for one, could do without the scene of Magacapped “Ye” and Donald J. Trump at the Resolute Desk, the workplace of such distinguished leaders as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
So, yes, there’s a lot in the news that you and I would rather avoid.
But the task of our newsroom is to give you a true picture of what lies beyond your own experience — my definition of journalism, broadly. So we can’t turn away or pretend that some news doesn’t exist. I’m particularly proud right now of the extraordinary work of the Times Union staff in covering the tragic crash in Schoharie last week. Day after day, my colleagues have uncovered details related to what happened at the intersection of Routes 30 and 30A, and tried to convey the almost unbearable sorrow that has gripped so many people in our communities.
If we are to really do our truth-telling job, though — carrying out what Pope John Paul II, a supporter of independent journalism, called “a mission in a certain sense sacred” — then we must focus more than we have recently on one story in particular that is really existential: the threat of man-made climate change to the survival of our planet as we know it.
This week a Un-backed body issued a report based on more than 6,000 studies, painting a picture of nearly imminent environmental devastation: Earth will reach the crucial threshold of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in perhaps just a dozen years, with deadly consequences for hundreds of millions of people: extreme drought, wildfires, floods, frequent superstorms and food shortages. We know that political unrest and wars often follow such disasters.
But the news gets worse: This is all but inevitable. Avoiding even higher temperatures, with worse consequences, will require previously unimagined international cooperation.
Maybe you missed the news of how Cape Town, a city of 4 million, almost ran out of water this spring. Perhaps you didn’t listen as meteorologists explained how climate change made this season’s hurricanes more potent and the wildfire season more destructive in the American West.
Those other stories that we don’t really want to read are, in the end, transitory. Eventually, our sadness will be soothed, our broken hearts healed, our political divides bridged. Really. But do not turn away from this news: We are ruining our beautiful Earth. It’s in our hands. Please pay attention to that story.
There are plenty of stories we all would rather turn aside. But our newsrooms’s task is to give you a true picture of what lies beyond your own experience. And there’s a story you must not ignore.
EDITOR’S ANGLE■ Rex Smith is editor of the Times Union. Contact him at rex SMITHrsmith@ timesunion. com.