The Merits of Political News

(Photo courtesy of NS Newsflash)

Conor Hamilton inadvertently promotes The Backbencher by stressing the importance of political news.

One of the things I am most often asked by school friends, and occasionally by my parents, is why I spend money on subscriptions to political publications like the New Statesman, The Economist and The Times. They realize that reading the news takes a significant amount of time, so reading much more than the bare minimum seems like I’m wasting energy that could be spent doing something else. Furthermore, it has been pointed out that I also don’t have to buy political news to get it. I can watch it, read free online articles or listen to the radio. Finally, they argue that I don’t need so many expensive sources for my news, as what is covered in one will nearly always be covered in another; paying for all of them seems excessive and extravagant. Unfortunately, these attitudes to political news also seem to be shared by a lot of the UK. We have the least interest in it amongst comparable countries, and are the least likely to pay for digital versions of it, according to a recent RISJ study.

My reply to the first objection is that you can rarely consume too much news: especially of the political or economic kind. These pieces of news are contour lines on the map of culture, allowing you to see the shape of the society that surrounds you. They provide context, and the more you have, the more the unfolding story around you makes sense (much like History). News, like any map, is extremely valuable if you know how to use it, enabling you to successfully maneuver through society.

…pieces of news are contour lines on the map of culture…

However, it would be a mistake to appreciate political news solely because of its utility. I could learn to play the piano or speak Portuguese, but I don’t. These useful things don’t entertain me. News does, because the political narratives become more engaging as you discover more of them. Consuming more news than the bare minimum allows you to link more events together, and appreciate the nuances within those links. News can be a ‘dot to dot’ for adults, but more enjoyable if written well.

Whilst these two arguments provide a general praise of political news, they hardly provide a justification as to why anyone should pay for it when a significant amount is free. This comes with the obvious realization that not all news is of the same quality. Most news is valuable, but some news articles are more valuable and enjoyable than others. There are high quality news sources that provide the best articles, some terrible sources, and a lot of poor sods struggling in the middle. Buying the news enables you to read more of the best, as well as showing that you value superior writing and want to support it in the future.

Unfortunately, no single publication has all the best writers, and thus one subscription cannot provide all the best articles. Nearly every political news source has its bias, and is therefore equipped with writers who share that bias: highlighting the desirability of multiple news sources. There is exposure to a greater number of lauded writers (and their disagreements), with such a plethora of contrasting views ensuring that you can formulate your opinions without undue bias. Everybody likes to think of himself or herself as a competent, well-informed individual. Reading news from more than one source helps to ensure this, and all the benefits that follow.

Political news can not only be interesting, but informative and often worth paying for. If gathered from numerous places, it can enable you to say and act on what you think, rather than what you’ve been told. Unfortunately, while these merits seem obvious, it would seem they are oft forgotten.

Conor has just finished his first year of A-levels and enjoys writing on a variety of subjects, from philosophy and politics to video games and comic-books. He wishes to study PPE at university before becoming a writer. When not writing or playing games, he can normally be found on his bike or with his head in a book. Attempts to combine the two have not yet been successful.


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