Reading the paper as a Spiritual Exercise, Part 2 : The Red tops

So, moving on from my last post which introduced this whole thing of reading the paper as a spiritual exercise, I’ve now moved from the soul destroying Daily Mail and have been reading The Sun and The Daily Mirror, which actually was largely a more positive experience and certainly both had a less bitchy slant! OK well not entirely, but particularly reading The Mirror, I actually felt ok after reading it. In fact although there were things, which I shall come on to, it generally had a more positive spin, and I certainly didn’t read it feeling that the whole world is evil and against me, which is certainly how the DM felt.

It actually amazes me that The Sun, Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror are the top 3 selling papers of 2014, and all 3 have been in the top 3 in the last few years. What I found with both The Sun and The Mirror was that there was very little ‘what I call’ real news. 90% of what was featured was about people. Hardly any politics, court cases or news of wars, even the current problem with Ebola featured a very tiny column, until the day we heard of British nurse Pauline Cafferkey who had contracted the disease whilst helping in Sierra Leone. Then, once there was a personal British story, it took up several pages in The Mirror.

So I found myself thinking about this and about what ‘real news’ is. To me, I want to know what is going on in the world, I’m not really interested in stories and photos of celebs on holidays, or how the latest actor has grabbed a new role, or a sportsman’s wedding (3 pages of pics). Real news to me, helps me to keep in touch with the way our world is working (or not as that case may be), how our world is being shaped by those in power, how people on the other side of the world are living with a crisis. I feel part of a world created by God, and as a result I want to be interested in all of it.

That said, one of my passions is mission, reaching people with the Gospel, seeing people’s lives transformed and a really big part of this is getting to know people, forming relationships, so when it is real people that I know, then I am interested, very much so. 

So why do these stories of other people’s lives who we don’t know, sell papers? Why are they the key stories?

Pretty much everything that I read in these kind of pieces was about people whose lives are good, or have been made better. Whereas the DM featured stories of celebs in downfall, tearing them down and commenting on their failures, the red tops stories built people up. They told how amazing their lives were, not just celebs but unknown people too, often with heart warming stories: how a man survived falling from 3 stories; how a teenager recovered from an awful accident; how a little boy thought to be unable to walk, finally took his first steps. But then the celeb angle seemed to show a life that was possibly unattainable – how with money and fame you too could be happy, you too could be admired and appreciated.

Society seems to have such a focus on people, especially the young, wanting to be famous (for fame’s sake) or wanting to be noticed, recognised (and let’s not even start not he while #selfie thing). I wonder if we are raising a generation of people who just need to be loved. As simple as that. Are we encouraging people to seek attention when what they need is to be loved for who they are? Whilst these stories generally made me feel less depressed that the DM, I wonder if they are are just as harmful in the long run, feeding people a subtle message of ‘you can be better, you need to be better, you are unlovable as you are’? 


Of course there were plenty of more obvious things I could comment on, like the endless sport pages (not really my thing unless it’s cricket which it isn’t at this time of year), the racing pages, masses of January sale ads, and the obvious political biases, especially in The Sun. I don’t want to comment on these things directly but I was thinking again about what I said in the last post about labelling people, and actually how we able ourselves too. Those who read the paper regularly do refer to themselves as ‘A Sun reader’ or ‘taking the Telegraph’ for example. Do we allow this to define ourselves? If you read one paper regularly for years on end, that cannot fail to shape your political stance, your feelings on the country you live in and many other things besides. The only thing I read regularly, daily in fact, is The Bible and I know how much that shapes me, so is reading a daily paper like reading a bible in one sense? It might not be spiritual reading but it is central to shaping people lives and opinions which is something I hadn’t really considered before and something I certainly will be thinking on some more. Just as I found with the DM, if we want to reach people previously unreached with the Gospel, then we need to understand people… (much as it pains me I might actually buy these papers from time to time just to remind myself of that very thing. Apart from The Sun, that I won’t buy again and see below for why!)


Now, whilst there is masses more I could say, there was one reason I really struggled with buying The Sun, even for this project – Page 3. I loathe page 3. As a woman I find it completely degrading to women. This is, after all a newspaper, not a lads mag. Whilst I have just discussed ‘what is news?’ a picture of a woman with her boobs out is definitely not news. It has absolutely no place in a newspaper (I have strong feelings about porn in general but that is for another post). Whilst writing this I had the papers on my kitchen table and both my kids saw page 3 and pointed it out, looking rather embarrassed and asking, ‘why is that there?’ Jolly good question…  People use the argument if you don’t like it, don’t buy it, but it’s not just the people who buy it is it? it’s their kids, their colleagues, or those who see the paper lying around and pick it up, or even flicking through it at a shop – it’s only on the first flick of a page after all. I encourage you to support the No more Page 3 Campaign

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  • Reply
    January 4, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    You highlight so many things that are wrong with the print media that there's not a lot left to say.

    I know that knowing people by the label of Sun Reader or Mail Reader will also shape our view of a particular culture or type of person, but I'm reluctant to label people in this way.

    Some one who came to our coffee morning last week, brought a copy o the Sun with him. His main attention was on the scanty news in the paper and the sports coverage. He is a bright, intelligent individual, who is a faithful Christian. He suffers from a disability which affects his ability to communicate, but it doesn't stop him being a valued member of our congregation.

    Do I turn my back on him, because he buys the sun and I might by the Guardian? I don't think so, It takes all sorts of people, and we need to see the image of God in each one, not the reflection of their daily news reading.

  • Reply
    January 4, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    totally agree!

  • Reply
    Jules Fan
    January 4, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    A great second post Jules. I'd not realised of the more positive spin in red stories, albeit not necessarily 'news'.

    I think your observations regarding a nation of people who 'just need to be loved' is a really good point. I think more and more these days, quality time with loved ones and family is being lost. Kids in their rooms with computer games or with their own TV. And with so much choice these days, people want to do different things. Time together is a lot less than it used to be.

    Also, another point that comes to mind on the 'just wants to be loved' topic is how these days with jobs and careers, people are taught to be independent, not to to rely on others, be the best, reach the top. Competitiveness in a dog eat dog world makes for division and a lack of love perhaps.

    I feel lucky at church for the community and kind people around me who accept me for I am, not the job I do. Surely, that's what love is and the culture is why people don't feel it like they used to.

  • Reply
    January 9, 2015 at 11:19 am

    Hi Jules. thanks for the comment. So true, the family element is so often lost to our own individual activities. In years gone by when there was no tech stuff to do, people chatted, played games, or did stuff together in the evenings. We try and have tech free time in the eves so we can at least 'be' together!
    also you are so right on the independence thing, Ive written about that before I think – society teaches us to be so focussed on ourselves, which is not conducive to a loving community life. I think the church has a role to play in changing that attitude…

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