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Faith in Humanity Restored


Making the transition from the comfortable cocoon of UKC to the cynical working world of publishing, Matt Gilley shares the positive stories he heard during his work experience that restored his faith in humanity.

For the last month or so I’ve been doing work experience at a few newspapers in Nottingham and Kent. In that time, I have written articles about awards for greetings cards retailers, two tonnes of unwanted leeks being rescued from a field (that’s two actual, planet Earth tonnes) and a Faversham asparagus festival that culminates in the mayor being tickled with one of the first asparaguses… or is it asparagi? Urgh. Who actually knows?

Admittedly, I’ve also covered a lot of things that sound less like they came out of the village from Hot Fuzz. But the point is that, far from the doom and gloom you might normally expect from the news, most of what I was doing was heart-warming and positive – trivial, perhaps, but not for the people involved. And who doesn’t love a tea shop with table and chairs suspended upside down on the ceiling, or a 300-year-old pub that used to serve smugglers and pirates and has sailing stuff everywhere?

As a gross exaggeration, national newspapers tend to focus on international disasters and politics, wherein the Conservatives are shit, the Lib Dems are shit, Labour haven’t quite worked out what they are yet, but when they do it’ll probably be shit, and the UKIPs are even shitter. Local politics isn’t great either, as it happens, it’s just that people care less, apart from when He-who-will-not-be-named turns up, and then he gets egged or punched or something.

It’s not that bad things don’t happen in the local news either. There are fires and murders and recently there was a man called the Skull Cracker on the loose, although that was sort of brilliant because a real criminal exists called the Skull Cracker, even though he was in prison for robbing banks and ladies at cash points and not for actually cracking skulls. But when there’s a fire, you hear about one set of neighbours going to wake the other elderly neighbour and help him to safety. And that – alongside a 60-year-old man cycling the length of the country to raise money for a homelessness charity, or a spa day giving MS patients the chance to relax and have a treat for once – is a welcome reminder that most people are fundamentally quite decent.

Of course, this sort of thing does exist in the nationals. John Simpson has always been particularly good at finding a small tale of human resilience or compassion to cut through the horrible abstraction of death tolls or the oppressive atmospheres of totalitarian regimes. A large chunk of his memoirs is devoted to such characters. But still, it can feel like a caveat, a diversion to bring into relief the main point of the story. In local news, however, the wealth of human kindness feels closer to being something like a focus in itself – to the point that you can have a page a week dedicated to an interview with someone from the community who’s not famous, they’ve just done something a bit interesting.

It’s easy to see how you could lose sight of this. The world is, after all, a pretty dreadful place a lot of the time. But it’s often when you look at the smaller picture that you realise it’s pretty great too, a lot of the time. People are generous and fun, even if it’s not always as entertaining to think of them that way and, on a grand scale, it often seems less important. But I don’t want to forget it, and the day I stop being optimistic about the human race is the day I’ll stop writing.


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