Here’s the latest: The news is not really the news
I receive many reader e-mails, some pro, some con, regarding points made in this column. Some messages are thoughtful, and show that the reader actually read the column.Some are superficial, and show that the reader only read the pithy headline and/or first sentence the editor added to punch up the column.More than one reader has asked, “Where do you get your news?”The short answer is that I’m really don’t care about the news. (A pause while some people cackle and exclaim, “I knew he didn’t know nothin’!”)I used to follow the news avidly, though. I remember Walter Cronkite’s last news broadcast for CBS, a time when a full 40 percent of Americans got their information from Uncle Walter along with the daily newspaper. These days, of course, the number of news sources is almost unlimited, but the amount of actual news has declined. When the cable franchise in Breckenridge transferred from Classic Cable to Comcast, I cut my service to basic – a dozen or so channels ranging from WB2 to the Discovery Channel, but including not one news channel.
The change made me think about what really is news, what information I need day to day to keep up. The typical CBS/NBC/ABC morning shows consist of brief informational updates on the latest dead in Iraq, and the latest natural disaster or accident, with the bulk of the time devoted to what I think of as the freak show …”And now, a heartrending story of a little girl whose puppy fell down a well, and her tireless efforts to keep that puppy alive until NASA could deliver a space-age device to safely remove the puppy from its trap. And later, an update on a man suspected of performing surgery on his comatose wife, selling the body parts for cash to support his drug habit.” This stuff is freak show, not news. I don’t need to know any of it, nor do you. And while the morning shows are freak shows, reducing the number of cable channels has thankfully delivered me from the evening yell-a-thons. Conservative or liberal, fair or balanced, they’re reality television, designed to produce their own news. The other morning, NBC covered as news a confrontation on the previous evening’s Chris Matthews show between the host and a woman who had written a book justifying racial profiling and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.I’d never heard of the book or the author, although I’ll ask the library to reserve a copy. (Internment of hundreds of thousands of Americans without cause is OK?)
Either way, it’s clear the incident wasn’t news, just part of the entertainment cycle designed to get viewers to watch the Matthews show that night. What’s worse, the viewers of these shows are under the mistaken impression that they’re getting useful information at the same time that they’re being entertained. That’s the most pernicious part of today’s news shows; viewers can actually end up misinformed or knowing less. Dittoheads, fans of Rush Limbaugh, routinely claim that their man is giving them the real dope, the true skinny, all the facts. At least one study done on Dittoheads has shown that those folks actually have less factual information at their command, regardless of their IQ or level of education. Shows like Limbaugh’s offer limited information, and information presented in such a way that it leaves listeners with false impressions or conclusions.So, where should you go for news, given that very little of what’s available is actually raw, unbiased information that you need to have?On the one hand, you’d probably be fine if you knew nothing about the day’s headlines. Having a head full of facts is pointless, unless you’re planning to follow in the footsteps of the fellow on Jeopardy (39 straight victories, $1.4 million in winnings).
Folks would be better off doing more thinking, and less time knowing. So first, find a Web site or a source for the headlines; you can read the Summit Daily headlines online without touching the newspaper.From the headlines, you can decide whether to read the article. Then use the time you’ve saved to read a book or talk to people about the headlines. You don’t need more news, especially not news masquerading as information – you need perspective, context for what’s happening around you, perspective to help you decide what’s important, and what’s not.And, of course, read the opinion pieces in as many sources as you can. Avoid the puppy-down-a-well columns. We all have enough of those in our own lives. Read first, think second, then think again. The news will wait.Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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