IT HIT me out of left field last night that it is a week since I watched the news.
I read newspapers tactile and online, listen to radio news several times a day and frequently tune in just before the hour in which to hear it, but everything seems so repetitive at this time of year.
The news is incredibly predictable, in which case we must wonder if it is in fact news per se.
We know that in the week leading up to Christmas there will be goodwill messages from high-profile folks. There is always a story on what prison inmates will have for lunch on Christmas Day. There will be stories about drunkenness and bad behaviour on New Year's Eve, the first baby born in the new year, the most popular baby names from the past 12 months — and all these interrupted by tragic stories of road deaths due to speed, not paying attention, tiredness or booze, and drownings for want of life-jackets. Sad and pointless deaths from which Kiwis never seem to learn.
It takes the quirky to catch the eye. On New Year's Eve a man was arrested in Queenstown when he ran past a policeman and tried to tip the officer's hat off but clipped the head instead. He then tried to run away with the officer's hat.
He will appear in court charged with assault. Having policed many a New Year's Eve, I assume he failed the attitude test, or the police were just having a bad day. It seems petty, and the weight of the conviction will lay disproportionately heavy on the young reveller in comparison to the policeman's bruised ego. But it made the news bulletin.
When I was in politics, we would start thinking well in advance of what stories we could get up over the Christmas-New Year period when gallery journalists were on holiday and the resource-strapped newspapers and broadcast outlets would put up much more of what we sent in than usual.
Others do the same, and this week we have heard that a survey commissioned by Forest and Bird has found that "83 per cent of us are concerned about pollution in rivers and streams". (They say that 67 per cent of statistics are made up on the spot). Other news stories resemble Facebook posts with high-profile people and low-profile people doing average things like going to the beach or enjoying a barbecue, catching a fish, building a sand castle.
On New Year's Eve we saw the list of those granted a Queen's award in grateful thanks for their contributions to New Zealand and the world. I love reading these stories, because behind them are so many people who just get in and do stuff in their communities for others without expectation of reward. They range from the humblest people beavering away, unrecognisable to most of us, but absolute saints to those who they assist or rescue daily.
Others have high public profiles and their contributions are well known, and, if we appreciate their work, we are happy for them, and, if we don't, we move on to the next profile piece.
All this makes me wonder if we really do have an hour's worth of news each night. Newspapers have trimmed down their volumes in recent years, and Radio New Zealand has cut Checkpoint, the daily round-up, by half an hour. Yet television channels keep giving us an hour each night at six o'clock.
When I am overseas in London or New York, where I would assume there is heaps more news, they only have 20 to 30 minutes before repeating the bulletin. Maybe that is why we keep seeing clips of dramatic car chases or animal antics that the technically literate have already seen posted on Facebook, You Tube or Instagram. You'd think, with the rounds of regular weekly, monthly and annual events cycling though our calendars, it wouldn't be too hard to fill in the gaps with interesting stuff.
Thankfully our local newspaper keeps us informed of local news which we wouldn't normally see. A lot of it is good news, which beats the heck out of another tragedy on our roads, a politician's musings over the barbie or the latest gag by an unco-ordinated, alcohol-impaired reveller and the police officers who got socks and not a sense of humour in their Christmas stocking.
Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government.