5.b.16 – Curiosity or public interest?

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July 16, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

Curiosity or public interest?

A crucial problem is learning to distinguish the information of public interest from those of interest to the public. The first are those that actually affect the lives of the community and are therefore at least potentially useful to all (or many), the second ones are those that stimulate the curiosity of the people because of the natural and instinctive inclinations of which we have already spoken. Nothing prohibits that a news story could belong to both categories: a plane crash with a television spectacular shooting is certainly a story that raises a lot of attention from the public, even for those not involved in any way in the incident; the same news is also potentially useful to the community because everyone has an interest in knowing that flight safety is not absolute, to know the names of the victims to make sure there is not one of his relatives and much more.
How to determine then what are the news of public interest? And who should do it? To the second question, both the spread culture and our considerations reply that they must be the citizens, the common people, it is indeed a fundamental act of information management. Good but …. who of us knows how to do it? Who among us can do that? How many of us have the habit of just asking themselves which news respond to curiosity and which is genuine information? This is clearly a macroscopic cultural and especially educational gap that requires a cultural adjustment more necessary than ever. If we do not know how to fix our refrigerator, we just instinctively seek someone nearby who knows how to do it, similarly if we do not know how to distinguish useful information from simple curiosity we will look for someone to do it for us. In this way we become easy prey to those journalists, opinion makers and the like whose career depends on their ability in cheating us favoring that politician or that product. We cannot therefore afford to ignore the first question: how to recognize the news of public interest?
Simple curiosity is, according to the definition which we have given, characterized by being instinctively interesting even when completely out of our lives, without any usefulness. Its function is to satisfy our instinctive curiosity, but even more: many news, especially those classified as gossip, are topics of which we can talk, an opportunity to express and disseminate opinions. In the tribal world this was a very important social and cultural function, but today, with television gossip concerning perfect strangers, this function has lost much of its positive aspects and has maintained in full only the negative ones.
The difference between the two types of information is not only in the news in itself, but in the use that our mind intends to do of it: for example, many news on traffic accidents, homicides, robberies could be very useful if collected in statistics even very approximate, but we know that this is not the use that we do of them. We do not read these news because we think that they affects us in some way or that we can obtain some benefit, we do it by instinct and we talk about it with friends just to say something, ignoring their utility even when it exists.
The true nature of curious news is to support public relations, providing topics to talk, we do not need them to be informed, in fact, some call them entertainment information or news to pass the time, like when you watch a TV show.
Now that the phenomenon of the curious news is explained, it is not so difficult to separate them from serious information, that is what makes us informed about the world around us, those that can really affect our lives thanks to their content. The first step is to get used to recognize our own attitude: do we read a newspaper to pass the time or do we want to know something that we will be useful? In the first case we have to say that we enjoyed it but we have not been informed, in the second case we will seek in vain the useful news and say that we threw our money away, as newspapers have lost from longtime their original function.

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