Exiting the news purdah

A month ago today I saw the exit poll results and turned the news off. I haven’t turned it on again.

I’d embarked on an unplanned news black out. I stopped watching TV and I avoided Question Time, which is really just a middle class version of Jeremy Kyle anyway. I stopped listening to the radio, apart from Radio 3, which only has news once an hour and pirate radio, which has news never.

What’s done was done and it was going to be bad for anyone unlucky enough to be poor or incapable. There was nothing I could do about it, so I switched off.

Social media was also off the agenda, because I knew that most people I knew would be raging into the echo chamber of Facebook and Twitter and that felt disheartening and pointless. I averted my eyes from free newspapers when I was working in town and avoided conversations about politics.

Some news filtered through early, mostly from the far-off land of my teenage son, but mostly I spent the last month vacuum-packed, protected from unsightly post-result posturing and jostling. I only found out Michael Gove was Justice Secretary last week and immediately wished I hadn’t.

My news blackout posed an interesting question: what happens when you’re not being enraged and distracted by the minutia of the daily news grid?

The answer is that unsurprisingly, it gives you back a lot of time. It also focuses the mind on what you can do rather than what you can’t. Cabinet ministers waft into the distance when you don’t see them every day, remote and shapeless as smoke, and local problems pop into focus in their place.

The last month of national radio silence has made me want to connect locally. The main thing now is rediscovering our individual and collective impulse to do it ourselves, to find opportunities to volunteer, and to strengthen ties with the communities we’re already part of through location or background or interests. We need to make alliances outside of our usual friends and family. And then, who knows what might emerge?

We don’t have the same collective impulse as Spain, which makes it harder for a phenomenon like Podemos to occur, but we do have a long-established tradition of DIY culture. If the mainstream isn’t providing, we’ve filled the gap with grassroots responses, whether that’s pirate radio or punk. We’ve also, thanks to a useful bit of local democracy, now got new neighbourhood forums that give communities legal rights and powers to shape new developments.

So that’s what I’m saying: DIY and do it local – and don’t let the news distract you.

Image: Jon S


Up The Woods with Caught By The River

I’m very proud to be part of Caught By The River and very proud to be part of their summer festival events. Usually we’d all be heading down to Cornwall for Port Eliot but this year the good people of St Germans are taking a break. Instead, we’ll be at the new Open East festival at the Olympic Park and I’ll be hosting a panel on London’s influential pirate broadcasters.

I’ve also been writing a column for them on my mission to learn about trees. It’s called Up The Woods and you can read the first two here and here with lovely illustration from Matt Sewell. Column #3 coming next week.

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 10.57.08

The Pick N Mix Radio Show On Mixcloud… And Where Are LDN’s Pirates?

Image courtesy of High Snobiety

I’ve been upping my radio shows to Mixcloud over the last few weeks (aside: am I really the only person who describes the act of uploading as ‘upping’?) and it’s been very cool and nice to see people actually listen to them because who actually listens to radio as it goes out these days? Well, I do, but only when I’m in my car, when I love to flick through the airwaves and find what’s going on. Which reminds me, I’m on a mission to find out where all the pirates have been hiding for the last few weeks. I know Rinse have gone legal but where is Whoa FM and Selector and all those other South London pirates that made my journey round and about SE13 more enjoyable? Answers on a postcard, please.

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