How news is constructed – The News: A User’s Manual, Alain de Botton (2014)

If you have an interest in how news is constructed, as I do, you might enjoy reading The News: A User’s Manual (2014) by Alain de Botton.

The author notes (p. 11):

  • The news known how to render its own mechanics almost invisible and therefore hard to question. It speaks to us in a natural unaccented voice, without reference to its own assumption-laden perspective. It fails to disclose that it does not merely report on the world, but is instead constantly at work crafting a new planet in our minds in line with its own often highly distinctive priorities.

[End of excerpt]

In reading the book I’m reminded of Ways of Seeing (1972, 2008) by John Berger, Art and Illusion (1969, 2000) by Ernst Gombrich, A Pattern Language (1977) by Christopher Alexander, and the work of Sebastião Salgado. The work of Paul Salopek comes to mind as well.

The book is well written and beautifully laid out. A distinctive feature of the text is that some words are in red italics.

At times (as on p. 71), the opening words of a paragraph are set in capitalized red italics:

HOW DOES THE news manage to enlist us in its sometimes hackneyed or wrong-headed conclusions?”

The book is distinct from books by journalists aimed at journalism students. It’s also distinct from books written by people trained in graphic design or architecture, as contrasted to books written by philosophers.

Destruction of the planet, for no particular reason

Some of his musings (such as the following sentence from p. 133) are relevant even for non-philosophers: “Aren’t we destroying the planet for no particular reason or reward? (By this time it may be getting very late, and only a stubborn few will continue to press on.)”

CBC podcast at The Current features Alain de Botton interview

An interview at CBC’s The Current, available at a Feb. 21, 2014 blog post entitled “Alain de Botton on why we need to scale back on too much news,” introduces the author as follows:

Is the news making us stupid? A British philosopher has written a user’s guide to the news. One that encourages journalists to be poets, journalism to be a government in exile, and the occasional falsification to achieve a higher purpose. You may never think of news the same way again.

“If you want to make people accepting of the status quo, give them no news at all, or give them so much they’ll drown in it. Then, nothing will ever have to change.”

Writer Alain de Botton

The British writer and popular philosopher Alain de Botton is well known for his thoughts on art, architecture, and literature.

For his latest study, however, Alain de Botton trained his critical eye on something so immersive, we may seldom pay any attention at all.

Even when it’s not news, the news is all around us — on every corner store , every phone, every top and bottom of the hour. More than ever, we live in a news obsessed age. So why not a guidebook?

Alain de Botton has just given us one. It’s called The News: A User’s ManualAnd as part of our series, Eye On The Media, Alain de Botton joined us from London, England.

[End of text from CBC’s The Current website, which includes a link to the podcast of the interview]


A Feb. 2, 2016 Ryerson Journalism Review article is entitled: ” ‘The greatest act of journalism ever’: Marie Wilson, of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says journalism is an integral part of indigenous culture and history.”

A Feb. 2, 2016 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Canada’s media: A crisis that cries out for a public inquiry.”

A Feb. 4, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “From the eye of the hurricane, the ’crisis’ in journalism.”

A Jan. 7, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “The problem with newspapers today: the Marty Baron perspective: ‘Spotlight’s’ Marty Baron may be the last of the old-time Humphrey Bogart editors. Pity.”


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