Specificity and incompleteness

These days, I can’t remember either the good news or the bad news. When someone talks about the good news – likely a centrist or someone who hasn’t thought their political views through – I nod along, keen to counter them but just feeling so tired. When someone talks about the bad news – which is most people I know – I nod along, deeply familiar with everything they’re saying but every once in a while getting the feeling they’re cherry-picking all the bad stuff and just listing them together, making it sound like your reality is a dystopia short even of simple joys like a good morning tea. I’m too woke to function perhaps. But then I want to counter them too, point out something good that happened, but then for the life of me I’m unable to think of something. When I do think of something, it’s been a couple hours hence and those people have left.

The only thing I can remember well is what pervades my mind from its surface, through its bulk, right to the centre: stories I’ve commissioned, stories I’m editing, hiring this or that subeditor, scoring SciWi’s next exclusive, things happening inside the newsroom. I’ve never known what news means to a person outside journalism, and what it’s like to engage with the news when you’re not involved in producing it. To the journalist, news is absolutely important just the way nuclear power plants are essential for society from the POV of a nuclear engineer. But unlike the industry in this metaphor, journalism is a public institution (or so they say) and an important part of functional democracies, and I think many journalists are excluded from honest participation simply by their positioning in society.

In other words, how do you be honest to your profession if you’re also going to simultaneously determine the fate of the society in which it is situated? Does such an honesty, straddling journalism, democracy and society, even exist? (I’m getting very strong Gödel incompleteness theorem vibes here.) Heck, how do you even define morals in this setting?

When a non-journalist has views about what journalists should or shouldn’t do based on what the non-journalist thinks journalists should be responsible for in a democracy, I’ve got two ways to respond: balk or blank out completely because I’ve never had to think about an answer as a non-journalist. You’d think it was simply about shifting one’s POV and empathising with the ‘outsider’ – as we often supposedly do? – but it’s not. If I do do this and say something you don’t agree with, neither you nor I are going to be able to tell whether my argument is rooted in my ability to empathise or, in fact, my inability to empathise properly. So overall, I’ve become completely unable to separate the fourth estate from my understanding of what a democracy is and, more significantly, become blind to which way causality is aligned between them.