I recently published a post on the Normal For Glastonbury Facebook page about two Somerset Live articles on Glastonbury Market. The first on June 14th was titled “This is what is wrong with the Tuesday market in Glastonbury”, it appears to have since been deleted, the next (see it here), only a month later on July 26th had the headline “We find out who benefits from the Glastonbury market and who doesn’t” and the subtitle “The market is popular and successful, but not with everybody”. (If I start to get huge numbers of readers for this blog perhaps I should change the title to ‘Normal For Glastonbury – Popular and Successful, but not with everybody’)
My facebook post (published on 26th July) was titled ‘Somerset Live are really getting on my tits’ and it precipitated a lively discussion about local media and the impact of the market on the town. I think some of my comments hurt the feelings of the journalist who wrote the original piece, for which I am sorry. My issue is not with her personally, but rather with what I see as the sorry state of the media, particularly on a local level.
Tabloid and local media thrives on contention and argument, in any story journalists are looking for the ‘angle’, the confrontation. It’s always possible to find an angry person to quote, on any subject. Often local media gives a mouthpiece to the loudest and most opinionated (opinions are like arseholes, everyone’s got one). Then they look for an opposing point of view, if that’s extreme too, all the better. I believe this approach to reporting news and local issues is damaging on both a community and national level.
Questions are framed in such a way that the respondent is forced to ‘take a side’. There is a fashion now for polls: who’s right, who’s wrong, who is the victim and who is the perpetrator. Life is more complicated than this. When issues are reduced to this level of simplicity all complexity and nuance are lost. The opportunity for meaningful discussion and collaboration goes, replaced with acrimony and blame. If enough people can be convinced there is an issue, that someone or something is ‘wrong’, then there will be calls for ‘something to be done’. When action is taken on the basis of outrage it is inevitably ill thought out and generally causes more harm than good.
Local news is not impartial, headlines are clickbait, every click makes an article that little bit more attractive to advertisers, regardless of whether the reader gets the story the headline has promised. I’m sure it doesn’t pay to be too critical of a giant supermarket’s plan if they are promising a full-page ad every week.
When I first came to Glastonbury the festival was reported in the local media in purely negative terms – deaths and crime and drug busts. There were always vocal locals to be found with their tales of outrage (many of which I’m sure were justified, but they did not represent the whole picture). The experience of the festival-goers was not considered relevant. That is until the festival (despite the best efforts of the local press but partly down to the BBC coverage) became a ‘must see’ event amongst those with more disposable income. Once people realised money could be made locally, advertising revenue gained, the local media started celebrating the colour and vibrancy of the event. I believe that if it had been solely down to local newspapers, enough righteous anger would have been generated that the festival would have lost its license. We would never have seen the amazing event that it has become, never have benefitted from the huge amounts of revenue it generates in the local area.
Journalism, at its best, can be a force for good, but only when it frames issues in a way that seek to unite, rather than divide us, that fully examines the issues, the context, that interviews the quiet and thoughtful, not just the loud and angry. Look at Positive News for examples of constructive journalism, the kind that helps people see each other as allies, not enemies.
Presumably, everyone with a business in Glastonbury wants to see a vibrant town, so how about working together? It’s clear that the market brings people to the town, I see them every Tuesday. There’s bloody loads of them, walking really slowly and stopping suddenly for no obvious reason. Taking ages to find their purses when I’m in the queue behind them just trying to buy a punnet of strawberries. If local businesses don’t feel they are benefitting from the market trade they need to look at that, seek creative solutions with others, not look for people to blame.
Many of the market traders are local craftspeople. If they sell their hand-made goods to a shop they end up with very little return for their work, plus most local shops will only take goods on a sale or return basis. If they sell on the market, directly to the customer, they make a much better return, which makes their business much more viable. They interact directly with the buyer, forging a genuine human connection. If they do well enough they might even go on to opening up their own shop in town. Then, of course, they see the issues from a shopowner’s point of view – the rent and rates, the bills, the staff.
Things seem so obvious when we look at someone else’s life, it’s so easy to assume they are having an easier time than us, that they are taking advantage, that we’re struggling while they are taking the piss. Righteous indignation is rife in a small town, it’s just sad that it is so often the fodder that local media feeds upon.
This problem is not limited to print journalism or local media websites, it’s endemic in the media across the board, a consequence of a rigid dualistic worldview. In so many areas Glastonbury people are looking within to overcome the conditioning that leads us to see the world purely in terms of good and evil, ourselves as victims. A mindset in which it is easier to apportion blame rather than take responsibility for our own faults and forgive them, so we can be more accepting and forgiving of others in turn.
On that note, if I’ve upset anyone writing this blog, ridden roughshod over your feelings, failed to take into account the enormous complexity of your lives, then I’m sorry. I make no pretence at impartiality, the opinions expressed on this site are mine alone, I’m beholden to no advertisers, but through my writing, I seek to examine the ways in which we as a community are trying different ways to live together. I too am learning, I do try to poke rather than provoke.
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