Right in the centre - Context and capacity


 Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

As the calender turned to another year, I reflected on a few things. For example, this weekly column is well over number 1,750. Seems like a lot of writing and hopefully a few words or phrases put on this page since October 1989 have been helpful to some people. 

My wife and I moved to Neepawa in January 1971. We were just kids and had a kid. Another one came along late in 1971. Two boys and now the family has grown to a daughter-in-law, four grandkids, a grandson-in-law and three great grandsons. We were all able to be together on Christmas Eve and it was nice. A special spot in the day was when the 1 1/2 year old great grandson decided that he should climb up on the couch and show me what he was viewing on his child-sized tablet and I showed him some train videos on my I-phone. I don’t think I understood a babbled word he said but it was a special moment that I am not likely to forget.

I was talking to the 1971 version son this week and I said if he learned anything from me it should be that a degree of skepticism is important. Not cynicism but being a skeptic is OK. Every situation, story or legend needs to be questioned with a view about context and capacity. News coverage, or what mainstream media call news coverage, needs to examined with skepticism, evaluated and then the truth comes a little closer.

Let’s digress for a minute. This column is not news even though it resides in a newspaper. It’s a column, an opinion piece, some would call it an editorial but it is not news. News appears on other pages and may be about the local council, a local sports team, a new construction project or, in some cases, a story about a disaster.

The problem we have today is that much of what is called news coverage is actually a mishmash of news mixed with bias and opinion. It’s hard to sort it out and keep the pieces separated. It’s almost impossible to separate as many, many news reporters put a large dose of their opinions in with the news. That’s just plain wrong and it’s why, in this newspaper, news is on the news pages and columns, editorials and letters to the editor are on the opinion pages.

Now, what about context and capacity? Often you will hear a newscast or read a news story that says road conditions are dangerous. During winter in Manitoba, that’s often the case. If a reporter says the “conditions are the worst I have ever seen”, that context is OK, as they are attaching the context to their personal experience. But if they say the “conditions are the worst ever,” that’s not OK, as they don’t have a full knowledge of conditions over the decades.

Just this week, reports of flooding in California were prominent in the news and there was legitimate grief over a couple of deaths. The deaths, as are all accidental deaths, were indeed sad. But context is important, as likely dozens of people die every day in California and never make the news.

Also, perhaps I missed the details, but the rain, snow and run-off in California will be doing some good to alleviate the endless stories about dry rivers and empty reservoirs in that state.

Then there’s capacity. We have been told for years that climate change and droughts have caused the dry rivers and empty reservoirs. That could well be, but there’s another side of the story. Those now dry rivers and empty reservoirs have been drawn upon by millions more people and perhaps millions more acres of irrigation than they were ever designed for. The population of California in 1960 was approximately 15,700,000. In 2020 was 39,700,00. Do you think the additional 24 million people might be using a bit more water than was used in 1960?

It doesn’t matter what the news story or opinion piece is about, always view the context and the capacity with skepticism. I used to say to only believe half of what you see and none of what your hear.

That might be a bit too skeptical, but the point is evaluate everything. It will serve you well in wading through all the information that is headed your way.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.