Book Review: The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton

By Brad Wassink

From the Catalyst, Summer 2015

The News: A User’s Manual
By Alain de Botton
Signal, 2014

Reviewed by Brad Wassink

Given the profound impact the news has on our lives – how we use our time, spend our money, and cast our votes – the media deserves much more focus in our public justice discussions. In 1984, CPJ produced the “Charter of Social Rights and Responsibilities,” a framework for how people of faith and various organizations, including the media, should engage in public life. It calls on the media to “present critical analyses of the situation of others, particularly the poor and minorities, to reflect the interdependence of our lives, and to present a wide range of viewpoints.” I think it’s safe to say that today’s news outlets are not living up to this standard.

Though Alain de Botton is a devout atheist, the solutions he proposes in The News would actually help move our media organizations closer to the vision CPJ laid out more than 30 years ago. Instead of stoking our fear and anger, the news should offer a more hopeful vision of society. Instead of doling out numbers and figures on various national and local issues, it should provide us with a better context through which to understand what’s really going on. And instead of boring us every time it reports on systemic, social problems, the news should excite us and engage us. It should make us care and inspire us toward social change.

De Botton himself sets a great standard as his writing is rich yet incredibly readable. Though his proposals are a bit idealistic, his challenge to us is nonetheless important: to think more critically about the news.

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