Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Mike Licht at Raptitude writes
of five things he noticed when he quit following newscasts, which he
did eight years ago. As someone else who doesn't normally watch
newscasts, I agree with much of what he says. In
... There's a big difference between watching a half hour of CNN's refugee crisis coverage (not that they cover it anymore) versus spending that time reading a 5,000-word article on the same topic.Any time I hear or see a newscast, be it in a restaurant or when a guest wants to watch the news, I usually notice both (a) I already know about the stories being presented, and at greater depth than they are being reported; and (b) the coverage is usually depressing, in part because of the reasons Licht presents:
If you quit, even for just a month or so, the news-watching habit might start to look quite ugly and unnecessary to you, not unlike how a smoker only notices how bad tobacco makes things smell once he stops lighting up.
The news isn't interested in creating an accurate sample. They select for what's 1) unusual, 2) awful, and 3) probably going to be popular. So the idea that you can get a meaningful sense of the "state of the world" by watching the news is absurd.Some of this is attributable to the nature of news itself (as the exceptional), and of the medium (which is highly perceptual). But much is due to the dominant malevolent-altruist-collectivist voices in our culture. What better way to "change the world", as many journalism students offer as the reason for their career aspirations, than to overwhelm everyone with a sense of personal impotence until they will take whatever apparent life-line is offered? I am sure news reporters run the gamut from being intentionally biased to being victims of their own Kool-Aid; but a non-stop diet of terrible things with no time for reflection or deep thought is, as Licht notes, both a horrible way to live and a poor way to truly know what's going on in the world. This doesn't make anyone depressed or fearful or ill-informed, but it makes it harder to be otherwise.
Their selections exploit our negativity bias. We've evolved to pay more attention to what's scary and infuriating, but that doesn't mean every instance of fear or anger is useful. Once you've quit watching, it becomes obvious that it is a primary aim of news reports -- not an incidental side-effect -- to agitate and dismay the viewer.
What appears on the news is not "The conscientious person's portfolio of concerns". What appears is whatever sells, and what sells is fear, and contempt for other groups of people.
Apart from the ability -- if I've been away from a computer for a while -- to learn about a fast-breaking story one cares about, or get a quick summary of a few new things, I see little value in mainstream news coverage.