The 50-Year Newspaper : The Indicator from Planet Money Daily news coverage gives us a lopsided view of the world. What would the top stories be if we only got a news update once every 50 years?
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The 50-Year Newspaper

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The 50-Year Newspaper

The 50-Year Newspaper

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STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

I'm Stacey Vanek Smith.

CARDIFF GARCIA, HOST:

I'm Cardiff Garcia. This is THE INDICATOR from Planet Money, the show about work, business and the economy.

VANEK SMITH: Also, a founding member of the Slow News movement.

GARCIA: (Laughter) There's this idea we've been obsessed with recently. Destruction tends to happen quickly. Progress often is slow. And this combination of sudden, bad things and slow, good things - it kind of messes up the way we see the world. The news is all about bad things - hurricanes, school shootings, fires, all the political fighting. And in the background, these good things happen kind of sort of invisibly.

VANEK SMITH: But what would happen if, instead of us getting news updates every day or multiple times a day or every five minutes...

GARCIA: However long it takes for my Twitter feed to update, yeah.

VANEK SMITH: ...What if we only got news updates every 50 years? Things would look really different.

GARCIA: Today on the show, we're doing it. Our indicator is 50. We're dreaming up a newspaper that comes out once every 50 years. And spoiler alert - there's some good news in there.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

VANEK SMITH: Can we get you to just introduce yourself?

HANNAH RITCHIE: Yeah. So hello. My name is Hannah Ritchie.

MAX ROSER: Yeah. My name is Max Roser. I'm a researcher at the University of Oxford.

GARCIA: Hannah and Max work on this project at Oxford called Our World In Data. We got the idea for the 50-year newspaper from them. Max had written about the concept in an article he wrote for, ironically enough, The Washington Post, a daily newspaper. But he didn't actually make a version of this 50-year newspaper himself. So we called up Max and Hannah, and we put them on the spot.

VANEK SMITH: And we said, OK, guys. The last version of this paper would've been published on Jan. 1, 1968. It is about to come out now Jan. 1, 2018. What do we put on the front page?

GARCIA: Well, obviously, there's going to be a mix of good and bad news. To be honest, I kind of just want to get the bad news over with.

VANEK SMITH: Yes. Let's do that.

GARCIA: So let's start there.

VANEK SMITH: First headline - Is it Just Me, Or Is it Hot in Here?

RITCHIE: Carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming, have more than doubled over the last 50 years.

VANEK SMITH: Hannah says this means we're on track to see the temperature increase by more than three and a half degrees over the next hundred years. And we've heard a lot about the terrible things that that temperature increase will mean. The next story, more bad news. Cardiff, you do the headline.

GARCIA: Humans to Animals - Drop Dead.

RITCHIE: We really are kind of eradicating biodiversity a really fast rate. Since 1970, the number of terrestrial animals has declined by 60 percent.

VANEK SMITH: Wow. Really?

RITCHIE: Yeah.

VANEK SMITH: Wow.

RITCHIE: There's been kind of this new term coined the Anthropocene. And anthropo- is human. So it's basically the humans are taking over the world. And this geological period will be defined by us.

GARCIA: Sixty percent decline in the number of terrestrial animals. That is an astonishing figure and a little bit depressing.

VANEK SMITH: A little bit?

GARCIA: But the thing to know about all this bad news, Stacey, is that it's also kind of the side effect of really great news. And Max and Hannah argue that some of the stories on the front page of our paper really need to reflect that. So definitely also on the front page, the next headline - this one's yours.

VANEK SMITH: Poor No More.

ROSER: Over these five decades, we saw global poverty fall from well over 60 percent to below 10 percent in the latest figures.

GARCIA: Wow.

VANEK SMITH: That seems huge.

ROSER: It is huge. Like, this development is really huge.

GARCIA: We've gone from 6 in 10 people living in poverty - most of the people in the world - to just 1 in 10. Max says because the world has gotten wealthier. And that's meant a better life for most of the people on the planet.

ROSER: It really shows that modern economic growth can be and often is a positive sum game, right?

GARCIA: Next headline - Child Mortality Plummets.

ROSER: Last time when we had the newspaper out, we still lived in a world where 1 out of 6 children were dead before it was 5 years old.

GARCIA: Today, it's 1 in 22 kids who die before the age of 5. Max says this is still unacceptably high. He's right, of course. But that is still profoundly better than it was 50 years ago. People have more access to health care, education. Smallpox has been eradicated. And polio has almost been eradicated. More people have access to clean water and to food. And, in fact, food brings us to our next headline - Blame It on the Grain.

RITCHIE: The share of people that are defined as undernourished or hungry fallen nearly two-thirds in the last 50 years.

VANEK SMITH: Back in 1968, more than a third of the people living in developing countries didn't have enough to eat. Now it's about 12 percent.

RITCHIE: And this has really been driven by a range of factors such as fertilizer, improved crop varieties, irrigation, agricultural machinery. All of these have contributed to see this really dramatic yield increase.

GARCIA: You know what's interesting about this, Hannah? - is that when we think about technological advancement, we tend to think about, like, high-tech stuff like our iPhones or something. But, actually, it sounds like one of the most impressive and most significant innovations has actually been in this kind of boring sector of agriculture. But that is actually what's made a huge, substantive difference in people's lives.

RITCHIE: Right. Together, they've probably saved the lives of 3, 4 billion people. So these are the really, really crucial technological advancements, I'd say.

GARCIA: So if you read all five stories on the front of this 50-year newspaper, you'll sort of notice that the good news and the bad news are linked together. The bad news was the cost of the good news because if you think about it, higher emissions and less biodiversity - these are the costs of the economic growth that made all the good news possible.

VANEK SMITH: And the good news is really good.

GARCIA: It's great.

VANEK SMITH: I mean, child mortality falling, people getting wealthier - those are really good things. But they've come at a really big price.

GARCIA: That's right. And so it seems like the challenge for the next 50 years is, how do you keep the good news coming? How do you keep making things better for people while also not totally screwing up the planet?

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

GARCIA: Wait, Stacey. Should we have included the fall of communism on here?

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter).

GARCIA: Whatever. We'll do that one in 2068.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

VANEK SMITH: We'd love to hear what you think of the show or if you have any ideas for an indicator. Send us an email - indicator@npr.org.

GARCIA: This podcast is produced by Darius Rafieyan and edited by Jacob Goldstein.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

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