There are a lot of reasons, real and imagined, that we watch and read the news. Perhaps the loftiest and most common reason given is to stay up to date on current affairs with the hope of making informed political or business decisions. A less noble reason for following the news, one most wouldn’t readily admit to, is the pure entertainment it provides. For whatever reasons we watch or read the news, its popularity is immense. The news industry is a multi billion dollar industry, and has a vast influence on the American population. It’s estimated that approximately 84% of Americans get the news every day in one form or another (PewResearch).
The question is whether or not watching the news on TV or reading it in a newspaper is really a valuable habit. Outside of providing some sort of dark and depressing entertainment that makes us feel better about the relative ease of our own lives, can it help us make better decisions? I would argue that rather than making life better or helping us gain a clearer understanding of the world, watching the news on TV or getting it from a newspaper can actually cloud our understanding and cause us to become more passive. On top of that, at least one study indicates that watching the news can be bad for our health. Read on for a few more in-depth arguments for not getting your news from popular media sources.
Watching the news prevents critical thinking: The way news is televised prevents viewers from actually having time to critically evaluate the news. Our thoughts are constantly interrupted with different news clips, streaming headlines, and commercial breaks. If were not able to think critically about the news, can it really help us make informed decisions?
A constant flow of news, whether televised or in print, prevents intentional response and leads to passivity. The information overflow and entertainment approach used by most news sources results in an endless state of “the next big thing.” Before we’ve had time to process or respond to one story, it’s already gone and the next big story is being aired. Politicians are known to use this phenomenon to sweep mistakes or unfavorable events under the rug. As long as another big story surfaces quickly enough, a less favorable story will be quickly forgotten. The tendency of news to promote passivity, rather than action, undermines one of the main arguments people make for watching the news. Can you honestly remember the last time any news story had a real impact on your decisions?
The news distorts our understanding of reality. While it’s generally known in this day and age that all news can’t be trusted because of propaganda and the spins that news sources are guilty of, there are greater underlying distortions that aren’t always as obvious. The amount of time and space news sources give various types of events can have a significant impact on how we perceive the importance of a topic. For example news broadcasters might direct nationwide attention to a relatively isolated hostage situation, while state-wide arsenic levels in water sources might be having a more significant impact on the welfare of most viewers.
Watching or reading the news can be bad for our health. Studies indicated the watching the news has a negative impact our our psychology, causing negative feelings, pointless stress, and possibly exacerbating depression. Why submit ourselves to this psychological torture we call “following the news” when it’s really not having any positive effects to offset the negatives?
Constant news about tragic events without the ability or opportunity to respond can cause callousness. Nothing surprises us any more; we hear or read the worst representations of humanity on a daily basis. But what do we do? How does it help us or the community in a practical way? After watching the news or reading the paper, most of us simply finish our cup of coffee and head to work, becoming that much more calloused and despairing about the conditions of the world. Instead of having an optimistic outlook or believing in the possibility of a better world, we give up hope and accept the world for how it appears in the news — messed-up.
Meaningful alternatives for a healthier life and community: So, if we really want to stay informed, but don’t want to be sucked into the system of news propaganda, what do we do? There are a actually a number of ways to stay informed other than by watching TV or reading the paper, sources of information that can promote positive action in one’s personal life and in the surrounding community. Here are a few ideas:
- Read a journalistic style book on a relevant or interesting topic. Books usually list verifiable sources for important facts and provide the opportunity to think about the topic being addressed.
- Get involved in a neighborhood association
- Attend local Board of Supervisors or City Council meetings
- Talk to neighbors and family members, discuss what’s going on in the world and ways to problem solve
- Use less cluttered and more meaningful news sources like scholarly journals
Using the above sources of information for current events wastes less time, is less distracting, provides more relevant news, and is more likely to foster creative and hope-filled thinking. With better information and more time to think about it, we can engage our world and focus on the things that matter. One might even see an improvement in his or her health!
Recommended reading: Propaganda by Jacques Ellul
References: PewResearch; “The Negative Psychological Effects of Watchings News on Television,” The International Journal of Behavioral Medicine
Originally posted 2013-11-01 14:31:01.