Internal News Angles Memo

Date: 1 August 2019
To: All editors
From: Claudia Williams
Subject: Today’s stories on the radar

After a lacklustre night of Democratic debate, something much more thought-provoking from Tortoise today: Helen Pankhurst on the continuing effect of the “beauty myth”. The piece includes snippets of real conversations she’s had in schools up and down the UK about female identity and image. These anecdotes in particular show how age-old gender expectations are being repackaged for a tech-savvy, younger generation. And it’s not just affecting girls.

There’s one stat in particular that jumped out at me: the $7bn global increase in cosmetic surgery over the past two years. As someone who’s spent the past 8 weeks watching – and very much enjoying – Love Island, it’s pretty jarring. The article proposes a plan of action for tackling the crisis, so please do get in touch if you have anything more to add. I’m loath to admit it, but re-thinking my TV choices might have to go on the list.

Our planet Environment, Natural resources, Geopolitics

Plastic fantastic
First, some good news. Plastic bag sales by England’s biggest supermarkets have halved in the past year, according to new figures. And since 2015, when the 5p charge was first introduced to tackle plastic waste, they’re down a full 90 per cent. Last year, the average person only bought 10 single-use plastic bags, which is fairly astonishing. It points to a real shift in consumer behaviour. It’s worth keeping an eye on plastic use elsewhere, though. An investigation by Vice using Greenpeace data, also published this week, highlights the tactics used by the very same supermarkets to get around other environmental plastic targets.

Belonging Identity, Society, Beliefs, Countries

More separate than others
New Zealand caught my attention this week. Thousands of Maori people across the country took to the streets to protest state-enforced family separations, after a local investigation earlier this summer drew national attention to the disproportionate removal of indigenous children. Despite making up just under a quarter of the population, 71 per cent of children taken into care last year were of Maori or Pacific Island heritage – which protesters argue is the result of institutionalised racism, and a hangover from colonialism. On the surface, it’s not hard to see echoes of Australia’s “stolen generation”, as well as of our own Case File on Family Separations.

Wealth Investment, Fairness, Prosperity

Cutting remarks
In a widely anticipated move, the US Federal Reserve last night lowered interest rates by 0.25 per cent. It’s the first cut in over a decade, and a largely precautionary measure – at least in part prompted by trade tensions and a worsening global picture. It’s a controversial move when unemployment is low and consumer confidence high, and was opposed by two members of the Open Markets Committee. President Trump, keen for a larger cut, was vocal in his displeasure. He responded in the usual way: a Twitter-based attack on Fed chief Powell, whom he accused of letting down the US.

The 100-year life Health, Education, Living, Public policy

Crisis in Congo
Today marks one year since the Ebola outbreak in DR Congo was first declared. It’s a grim anniversary, and one that brings with it more bad news: figures released yesterday confirm it as the second deadliest outbreak of the disease on record, with at least 1,803 deaths. Last month, it was declared an international emergency by WHO. Rwanda, it was announced today, has shut its border with Congo. Thousands of health officials have been deployed, so why are things getting worse? This article in the FT (£) includes a good breakdown of the story so far, and highlights the ongoing difficulties with trialling vaccinations in a country where there’s widespread distrust of both politicians and medical professionals.

New things Technology, Science, Engineering

Robot doctors
The latest development from Google-owned DeepMind is fascinating. The health- and AI-focussed group has unveiled its latest breakthrough – an algorithm capable of predicting acute kidney injury (AKI) up to 48 hours before it actually happens. (Disclaimer: for anyone else requiring a little extra help, I found this very short podcast by Wired to be a decent explainer.) AKIs are linked to 100,000 deaths per year in the UK alone, so anything that could lead to early intervention in the future is clearly exciting. But this longer piece, also from Wired, is interesting on the existing relationship between DeepMind and the NHS – they’ve already developed an app to help monitor AKI – and what that might mean for patient privacy. It seems worth pointing out that, in 2017, a deal made with an NHS trust was found to have broken data protection law.

That’s all for today.

Claudia Williams