I have a terrible confession to make. Unlike the self-confessed news junkie Lionel Shriver, I am not a newsaholic. I don’t buy newspapers, I don’t listen to the news, I don’t watch the news. I especially don’t watch the news at night – nunc dimittis, for goodness’ sake. As for those Sunday shows featuring politicians in pullovers, the mere knowledge of their existence offends me.
I’ll admit spending too much time on Twitter. But that’s not for the news so much as the argument – I’m like a teetotaller who enjoys a good brawl.
Ironically, I’ve spent most of my working life in politics, think tanks and commentary. In that time I haven’t exactly faked an interest in the news, I just haven’t admitted my disinterest. “Did you hear that interview with so-and-so?” I’m asked. “Must have missed it,” I reply. “I miss all of them!” I fail to add.
The thing is, I know I’ll get away with it. That’s for two reasons. The first is that most of it doesn’t matter – not for more than a day or two. The interview I missed will be forgotten within a week, even by those who actually cared at the time. The other reason is that I read articles and essays and papers that do matter: journalism and non-journalism about things that mattered yesterday and will still matter tomorrow.
There’s a lot of it about (more than I could ever read) and, thanks to the internet, it’s miraculously accessible. Not all of it is right, of course. Yet, piece by piece, one can form a view as to the inner workings of the world – as opposed to the mere creaks and moans heard at the surface.
Sadly, our national conservation is supremely superficial. What our politicians and their press officers care about are tomorrow’s front pages – it is those which keep them awake the night before, not the prospect of a penetrating essay in the London Review of Books.
Towards the end of the last decade there was a big scare over Britain’s reliance on natural gas. Those Russians will cut off our supplies and the lights will go out, was the general idea. This was a distortion, one which obscured the real story: the shale gas revolution and the rise of a global system for transporting liquefied natural gas by ship. None of this was a secret. It could be read about in a number of serious, but accessible, articles. It was already relevant to policy, but not to politics, because it wasn’t in the news.
UnHerd is a place to look at the world without the news getting in the way. But we don’t claim to be the only such vantage point. With so much brilliant writing available it would be churlish not to acknowledge it. The idea of the UnPacked column (which I’ll be writing each day) is to feature, and comment upon, the best of what’s out there. I hope you enjoy it.