Some­times news is too bad to read

Albany Times Union - - PERSPECTIVE -

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.

Photo il­lus­tra­tion by Jeff Boyer / Times Union

ED­I­TOR’S AN­GLE■ Rex Smith is ed­i­tor of the Times Union. Con­tact him at rex SMITHrsmith@ time­sunion. com.

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