What Journalists Can Learn from the Birds and Bees

Journalism places a high value on pace. It’s ingrained in our vocabulary: we like to report that a story is breaking or fast-moving, and we lament a slow news day. Increasingly, technology permits us to pursue this pace to its logical conclusion: while at one time journalism – from the French ‘jour’ – literally meant giving a daily account of the news, now we are up-to-the-minute, if not live.

The benefits of increasing our pace are clear: the audience get facts sooner, and we add drama to our coverage. But as we gain pace, do we lose something else? Like an accelerating vehicle, could the increasing blur of the outside world cause us not to notice important detail and depth? Worse still, might we miss some important stories altogether?

When not at work in a fast-paced newsroom, I am increasingly likely to be found in my garden. Here, things happen altogether more slowly. My Virginia Creeper lives up to its name, as each year it obscures a little more of the fence it clings to. My Japanese Maple slowly but steadily grows ever-upwards and outwards. And as I write this, a slow-motion army of slugs is laying siege to my Passion Flower.

And so like the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, in my garden I am slowly learning to “adopt the pace of nature, [whose] secret is patience”.  

I wonder if Jesus was urging us to do the same. For him, the flora and fauna of first century Palestine provided a rich source of teaching material. From birds, to mustard seeds, to lilies, he evidently thought nature could tell us a lot about how to lead our lives. But to fully appreciate these lessons, we would need to slow down: to notice the care-free joy of birds requires us to adopt the stillness of a bird-watcher; to grasp the potential of the mustard seed we need to observe each stage of its growth; and the lilies are used to illustrate that human “toil and spin” is often futile.

Perhaps it’s also telling that even the Son of God needed forty days and forty nights in nature, “with the wild animals”, in order to discern how to go about his job here on earth. Jesus, it seems, found that stillness in nature brought wisdom and discernment.

My small Mancunian garden is quite unlike the wilderness of a Middle Eastern desert. However, I’ve found that even here, stillness has brought encounters with nature that have helped me discern important things.

Here are three.

Firstly, I’ve sat watching a spider spin its web from scratch. Seeing it diligently create a tiny, intricate work of art, it becomes impossible to feel the kind of malice I previously had for the species. Secondly, I’ve started eating my breakfast in the garden, joining the birds as they do the same. Sitting still and quiet, I’ve grown familiar with every breed that frequents the area, as they take their turn at my bird feeder. Thirdly, I’ve watched bees go from flower to flower over the summer months. As I’ve come to understand their tastes, I can now cultivate more of what they like, and so improve their dining experience.

But even beyond the garden fence, these observations are helpful, bringing wisdom that I can use in my diverse community as well: the spiders have revealed that my deepest prejudices may well be misplaced; the birds have cautioned me not to assume knowledge of a place without a proper investment of my time; and the bees have challenged me to consider how my actions might impact the health of those around me.

If greater alignment with nature’s pace yields this personal nourishment, what might be gained if the journalistic profession did something similar? I’m not suggesting meadow-based newsrooms, nor replacing hourly news updates with seasonal ones, but I can think of occasions where we might better infuse nature’s pace into our agenda.

For example, when Cecil the lion was shot dead by an American poacher in 2015, news coverage was sustained and global. But the following year, when a devastating WWF report showed a 58% decline in global wildlife since 1970 (and predicted worse to come without action) it received a much more muted response. Why would a story charting the decline of all wildlife be eclipsed so totally by the decline of one lion? A comparatively slower decline slips under our radar, so it seems.

On a similar note, as Brexit negotiations continue, changes to the UK’s fishing industry will no doubt continue to make the news. But will this coverage compare with the incremental rise of sea levels, the global depletion of fish stocks, or the increase of plastic in the oceans?

And again, as heatwaves, forest fires and floods disrupt people’s lives, will our news coverage place them in the broader context of the increasing abnormality of weather patterns brought about by climate change?

Our pursuit of pace quenches our audience’s apparent thirst for immediacy and convenience. But if in the process it skews our agenda to an extent that we miss stories of huge changes in nature, then we have a problem. Not only do we do a disservice to the natural world, but we do a disservice to our audience. The health of all of us depends on the natural world, just as the natural world’s health depends on us. And so our connection to it cannot be underestimated. Jesus knew this, seeing immersion in nature as integral to seeking the Kingdom of God. Perhaps then to be both a Christian and a journalist, we ought to immerse ourselves in nature, and consider where our pursuit of pace is taking us.

Jake Lloyd is Communications Co-ordinator at Arukah Network and a Studio Director at the BBC.

  • Thoughtful piece, thanks