What’s in a word? Perhaps not very much, especially if it’s a word contained in one of the 500 million tweets sent each day, or one of the two million-plus new book titles published this year. How about the Oxford Word of the Year, a sort of annual temperature-check of general global conversation? Yeh, that should be fairly reliable – so long as it’s not an emoji (again). For 2018, it’s ‘toxic’ – the word that the good people of the Oxford English Dictionary selected that best sums up “the ethos, mood or preoccupations of the passing year”. Of the top 10 words it has been used alongside (‘collocates’, if you must know), the three that stand out as the most revealing of 2018’s view of toxicity are the following: masculinity, environment and culture. Oh dear.
While this certainly doesn’t represent all conversation, ‘toxic’ in indicative of the general tone of online debate. You only need to look at comments below the line on Twitter, YouTube and Reddit for evidence of this, where there’s always someone willing to offend/be offended, or someone desperate to apportion blame. This has been exacerbated by the twin ills of Brexit and Trump, but the well of public discourse had been poisoned long before that nightmarish 2016 double-whammy. Instead of making conversation more wide-scale and democratic, the internet has polarised us all. Words are weapons, and we’re only just coming to terms with how dangerous these weapons are in both the real and online worlds.
In his book Breaking News, subtitled The Remaking Of Journalism And Why It Matters Now, Alan Rusbridger looked back at his 40-year career in the newspaper industry and made this assessment – which I think chimes well today: “From the distance of 2018 maybe the world is a bit more attuned to the dangers of creating a monoculture of simplicity. The politicians who succeed in it are sometimes the ones with the simplest messages. Populism is a denial of complexity.” Katharine Viner, who took over from Rusbridger as the Guardian’s Editor-in-Chief in 2015, recently wrote an article celebrating the newspaper’s reader funding model, in which she praised and thanked the one million-plus Guardian readers who had pledged financial support to the title in the three-and-a-half years since she assumed control. “We are living in dangerous times when dark ideologies flourish, and it’s no surprise that people feel anxious and confused. I know it can sometimes be tempting to turn away from news coverage. But I’m sure you feel, as I do, that we have to understand the world if we’re going to have a chance of making it better for everyone.”
We’re often accused of being too positive in what we write in Bido Lito!, of not sticking the knife in often enough. I’ve always felt that that particular argument misses the point of what our main role is – and it also misses the genuine critique that hides between the lines. I see Bido Lito!’s role more as a documenter than an acerbic-tongued critic, and I maintain that what we choose not to talk about is important as what we choose to talk about.
The world doesn’t need any more toxic debate: it needs more nuanced reporting that adds feeling, clarity and transparency to a story; more of an uplifting conversation that’s people-centric and understanding; something that can be both global and hyper-local. I hope that the publication you have in your hands represents that to you – because it’s yours as much as it is ours.