Ben Lowry: The year 2021 was by no means as bad as it might have been

In the 1990s, when I was starting off in journalism in London, I had a boss who had once had a senior night role in The Times.

By Ben Lowry
Saturday, 1st January 2022, 7:16 am
Updated Sunday, 2nd January 2022, 1:35 am
The White House in Washingon DC. America did not in 2021 have the political crisis it seemed it might in January
The White House in Washingon DC. America did not in 2021 have the political crisis it seemed it might in January

(Incidentally, see left how that newspaper turns 237 today, which still makes it almost half a century younger than us!)

I learned a lot from this man, who was very sharp.

I was therefore reassured when he told me a story that showed that even someone as alert as him could suffer memory loss.

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The tycoon Rupert Murdoch owned the paper, as he does now, but was rarely seen, often running his empire from America.

Then one day Murdoch turned up at this man’s shoulder, as he was finalising the next morning’s edition, and asked him: what is in tomorrow’s paper?

His mind went to jelly and he could not remember a single story.

That mind-blank was no doubt partly explicable through nerves.

But it was another thing too.

When you are dealing with a lot of information, such as news, you almost have to subconsciously push out information — once you have satisfactorily used it to complete a story or whatever — so that you can take on new information.

That, I think, is why I have often found that when I meet someone in a social situation after I have been working, and they ask me, what is in the news tomorrow, I can’t at first remember, even though I have been thinking intensely all day about multiple different stories and developments from all round the world.

Yesterday, as I was helping to prepare this edition of the paper for the presses, a colleague who works in a non journalism part of the business offered me new year’s greetings and said let’s hope it is better year than this one. I mumbled something such as: was 2021 that bad? And my colleague laughed, thinking that I was being humorous.

But in fact I genuinely could not immediately remember whether it had been a particularly bad year!

So it can’t have been that bad.

I am not by nature a glass half-full sort of person, although I very much enjoy the outlook and company of cheerful people who are of that disposition.

There will, as we move into 2022, be issues this column will analyse from a critical perspective, because they are real problems.

But let me now, in the spirit of new year hope, try to recap on why I do not think 2021 was that bad.

Above all, I think that the coronavirus pandemic has so far continued to pan out in ways that are much less bad than they could have been.

I am hesitant writing that because I was talking to a very well informed doctor recently who said that while Omicron was causing much less problems than feared, scientists were still worried about a very dangerous mutation.

One thing the pandemic has shown is human adaptability.

We have already changed many behaviours, such as work patterns and a preparedness to do things that almost no-one previously had to do, such as wear masks.

Even if those new habits are quickly lost, we will be able to return to them much more quickly if a more serious pandemic strikes mankind within living memory of this one.

I also think that, for all people’s concerns about an ‘anti science’ mentality, in Northern Ireland (and all of these islands) there has in fact been an instinctive acceptance of the wisdom of experts.

When it comes to the crunch with regard to vaccine uptake, for example, groups of people who are at great risk of dying from Covid almost universally accept the offer of a jab.

Economically, the pandemic has not caused the disaster we feared, again due to adaptability. While I still fear a loss of control of inflation from all the money being pumped out by governments, economists seemed to have learned lessons from the financial crisis of 2008. Workers have adjusted their plans.

This has led to some very serious labour shortages (have you tried to get a trades person in the last six months?). These will resolve themselves with time. In the meantime, young people who like challenges should seriously consider a trade.

In other matters, the world is still less violent than it was only decades ago, although there are grave international threats. America did not in 2021 have the political crisis I feared it might in January and nor has Northern Ireland had a meltdown, despite big challenges.

Happy new year!

• Ben Lowry (@Benlowry2) is News Letter editor. Other articles by him below and beneath that information on how to subscribe to the paper:

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