The speed of the modern news cycle is faster than ever. Important top stories can be brushed aside in hours when something else sweeps in. The modern news cycle is optimised towards the "new" and the "viral" rather than the "important".
As we approach the end of 2018, it simultaneously (and paradoxically) feels like so much has happened yet so little has happened this year. Given the pace of the news cycle, big stories exit the public consciousness as quick as they enter. It can make it hard to remember everything that happened and what will be the stories to remember in 5, 10 or even 50 years.
Good journalism should keep us informed about the important things in the world. However, a growing future importance will focus on how to help direct attention towards what really matters.
In an effort to help, below I have recorded some of the biggest and most impactful global news stories of the past 12 months. What I have listed below is what I feel are the most important points to remember from the past 12 months. I would love to keep tracks on this over a longer time horizon to see what stories end up being the important ones, and what didn't really matter. Perhaps it could help guide what we should really be paying attention to in future.
- SpaceX launch the Falcon Heavy: On Feb 6, SpaceX launched the first Falcon Heavy rocket into orbit. Why it's important: this was the most powerful rocket ever launched into orbit and able to carry at least twice the cargo of its nearest competitor.
- Parkland shooting: On February 14, a gunman opens fire on a school in Parkland, FLorida resulting in the deaths of 17 people. Following the event, the March for Our Lives movement emerges campaigning for gun-control reform in America.
- Cambridge Analytica: Cambridge Analytica, a data consulting firm, illegally obtained information from over 50 million Facebook profiles. It was revealed that Facebook were aware of this breach but took no serious action in the aftermath. Cambridge Analytica had strong ties to the Vote Leave campaign in Britain as well as links to Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon during the 2016 Presidential election, both at the time, strong allies of Donald Trump.
- Kim Jong Un crosses into South Korea: On April 27, Kim Jong Un became the first North Korean leader to cross the Korean demilitarised zone since its creation in 1953. He met with the South Korean leader to hold extensive talks around the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
- Kanye West Meltdown: Kanye tweets a lot of "woke" opinions on the state of America that upset his fans including declaring slavery as a choice and his support for the Trump Administration.
- Ireland votes to Repeal the Eigth Amendment: After a long and contentious debate, the Irish public vote 66:34 in favour of repealing the 8th amendment to the Constitution, thereby removing the constitutional special protection afforded to the unborn child and paving the way for abortion services to be avaialbe in Ireland.
- GDPR comes into effect: The European Union's General Data Protection Regualtion comes into force on May 25th 2018. The Regualtion provides a higher standard of protection to individuals relating to the collection of their personal data as well as increased obligations on companies and organisations that collect personal data. It is generally seen as a boost for privacy rights for individuals and a consequential move for large tech companies in particular.
- Children in Cages: The Trump administration's decision to separate the children from parents who illegally crossed into the United States on the Southern border sparks fury with former Republican first ladies denouncing the policy.
- World Cup in Russia: The 2018 World Cup takes place in Russia with France ultimately winning the tournament.
- Trump and Kim Jong-Un Meet: A US-North Korea summit takes place in Singapore after an initial cancellation. Kim and Trump become the first sitting leaders of their respective countries to meet. A document is signed promising new relations between the two countries and paving the way towards denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. Since this meeting, progress has significantly stalled on these developments.
- Thai cave rescue: After 18 days trapped inside a cave and making international headlines, a junior soccer team of 12 boys and their coach are rescued by a diving team.
- EU-Japan Trade deal: The European Union and Japan conclude one the world's biggest ever free trade deals creating an enormous economic free-trade zone eliminating nearly all tariffs. The deal is promoted as a massive win for globalisation and free trade, a clear refute of the UK and US revised protectionist outlook.
- InfoWars removal from tech platforms: Following Apple's lead, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook all remove Alex Jones' content from their sites leading to a debate over the limits of freedom of speech in the modern technological world.
- John McCain dies: After a long battle with brain cancer, the war-hero, former US Presidential candidate, and sitting US Senator from Arizona dies aged 81.
- Korean Agreement: Following their meeting in April, Kim-Jong-Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in meet in Pyongyang to agree a committment to ending nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and fostering deeper relations between the two nations.
- Brett Kavanaugh hearings: Following the retirement of US Supreme Court justice, Anthony Kennedy, President Trump gets a second nomination to the US Supreme Court. The nomination leads to a national debate following the emergence of a series of accusations of sexual harassment against Brett Kavanaugh during his time in college. Despite a testimony from one of his accussors, Christine Blasey Ford, in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a series of allegations from more accusers, the nomination is eventually approved by the US Senate 50-48.
- Anonymous NY Times Letter: A letter from an insider within the Trump Administration claims he is actively working against the President's agenda. This comes on the back of more revelations from inside the White House in WaPo journalist and Watergate reporter Bob Woodward's latest book "Fear". The book detailed the daily chaos and turmoil inside the Trump Administration.
- Jamal Khashoggi death: After initially presumed to be missing, it is revealed that renowned Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey and never exited. He had entered in order to obtain Khashoggi was a Saudi dissident, having fled his home country and while in exile, continued to write articles critical of the Saudi government and Mohammad Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Germany stopped selling arms to the country over the incident, while President Trump disputed the CIA's verdict of Saudi involvement in the murder.
- US Mid-Term elections: The "referendum" on the half-way point of President Trump's first term in office sees the Democrats win back control of the House of Representatives while the Republicans retain the Senate. The results are too inconclusive to write a dominating narrative from the results. New high profile Democrats are introduced such as Beto O'Rourke and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
- Jeff Sessions resigns: Following mounting political pressure, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigns from his position. He had been at odds with the U.S. since recusing himself from the Russian investigation which infuriated the President as he could not count on his AG's protection from the investigation. Trump subsequently nominated William Barr to the position of Attorney-General. Barr previously served as AG under President HW Bush.
- Brexit deal negotiated: After months of negotiations between the UK and the European Union, UK Prime Minister presents her withdrawal agreement to the UK Parliament. The ERG and public remain unenthused.
- POTUS 41 - George H.W. Bush dies: Former U.S. President passes away on November 30 aged 94. His wife, Barbara, died 7 months earlier.
- Paris riots: Protests are sparked following a rise in fuel taxes which leads to clashes in the streets of Paris. The "gilets jaunes" or yellow vests lead mass protests on a number of issues in France, taking their moniker from the vests all drivers are required by law to keep in their vehicles. The protests descend into riots and looting of shops and restaurants in the centre of Paris. Despite President Macron's reversal of the fuel tax hike, the protests continue with a contempt for the French government laid bare by protesters.
It will be interesting to see which of these stories we will judge as very significant in future years and others that the future will turn to meaninglessness. Overall, there are some observations that we can pull from the past 12 months.
- Ireland: Ireland is continuing its positive economic growth and rebuilding its international reputation. Our government is working well with the European Council and Commission to ensure our political interests in relation to Northern Ireland are met. Electorally, the country voted to remove the constitutional protection on abortion from the Constitution, enhancing the narrative on the back of the 34th Amendment referendum in 2015 to legalise same-sex marriage that Ireland is becoming a more liberal country, discarding the conservative image of Catholic Ireland to the past. The Pope's visit in August of 2018 was a reflection of the Church's dwindling significance in modern Irish society with obvious comparisions drawn to the audience crowds and sizes from the last Papal visit to Ireland in 1979.
However, the recent Presidential election demonstrated that this is not a unanimous voice. While Michael D. Higgins comfortably won a second term in office, businessman Peter Casey won one-fifth of the vote following some derogatory comments made towards the travelling community in Ireland.
- USA: Trump continues to be a divisive and turbulent President. His Administration did not have many legislative achievements in 2018. On foreign policy, he scored a victory at his meeting with Kim Jong-Un. However, his decision to side with Putin over his own intelligence agencies in Helsinki last July, and his PR gaffed trip to the UK in the summer takes the shine off it. His decision to pull the US out of the Iran deal is likely a consequntial move. While not differing from previous US Presidential Administrations, continuing the alliance with Saudi Arabia in the face of their human rights atrocities is worsening. 2018 saw the Saudis gain international press for the death of Jamal Khashoggi and their part in the proxy war in Yemen. Following his economic protectionism rhetoric, he hit China and the EU with tariffs.
Domestically, the story on the southern border where children of illegal immigrants were placed in cages was disgusting. However, the mid-terms were not a disaster for the Republicans, holding onto the Senate by a 2 seat margin. Amidst enormous political pressure, he also got a second conservative justice onto the Supreme Court.
Within his administration, there has been a lot of change, but less turmoil than 2017. Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohen, Hope Hicks, Nikki Haley and John Kelly were all high-profile departures. A swathe of books were published providing different stories of the inner workings of the Trump White House. The continuing invesigation into Trump and his inner-circle's ties to Russia continues to drag on. He has brought in Rudy Gulliani as his personal lawyer, with the evident instructions to do all that he can to discredit the Special Counsel Robert Mueller who is heading the investigation into Trump. The arrests and convictions of members of Trump's inner-circle such as his personal attorney Michael Cohen and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn have been mitigated by co-operation with Mueller's team and the relevant authorities. The extent of the information that Mueller now has is yet to be revealed but looks likely to be a defining chapter in the Trump Administration.
- Europe: What happens to the UK next is anyone's guess. Brexit went from an abstract idea to more recently, a 600 page trade deal which in nearly unanimously disliked outside the Prime Minister's inner circle. The last couple of weeks have wreaked chaos on the British political system with the Prime Minister surviving a no-confidence motion in her party, and forced to delay the Parliament vote on her trade deal for exiting the EU. With the EU refusing to re-negotiate this politically unpopular deal and the March 29th deadline for exit looming, there are going to be some more developments to this crisis.
Protests in France indicated the discontent with President Macron and the belief he is not focused enough on domestic issues, instead eyeing and positioning a position on the global stage. Angela Merkel has stepped down as CDU leader, signalling the end of her reign is in sight.
2018 will be remembered as a terrible year for tech companies. Facebook sat in controversy for nearly all of the year, with one negative story after another. Companies like Twitter, AirBnB had their fair share of negative headlines. It feels like the beginning of a larger tech-backlash with the industry likely to come under greater public scrutiny in future.
This year felt like a continuation of the mood we saw in 2016 and 2017 with no real sign of the antidote to the chaos. Another chapter is an unfolding new narrative that is incredibly difficult to predict its future direction.
What is to come in 2019? Brexit is the big question. Will it happen and if so, under what terms? It is also a big year for international relations. Big moves to come from North Korea and Saudi Arabia. The European Commission is due for a re-shuffle with elections in the European Parliament also. In the US, the race to be the 2020 Presidential Nominee will get underway. In tech, can Facebook re-establish itself or will it decline?