Friday, January 7, 2011

The (Bad) News

I literally grew up watching the evening news.  As young as I can remember, I would perk up when hearing the theme music.  I would mimic my father as he stood before the TV screen unconsciously stroking his mustache, carefully studying the events unfolding.  Each night we gladly welcomed Dan Rather into our home (we "knew" him way back when he was a local news reporter).

I carried on this tradition when I left home for college and beyond.  My day didn't seem complete without a nightly recap of the latest events from one of the trusted anchors.  Even with the availability of online news articles, I kept up my ritual, enjoying the tidy 30 minute package of stories, conversation, and video footage that brought it all to life.

It's been many months now since I stopped watching the news, and I know I am much happier because of it.

Why did I stop?
Because it's mostly bad news!  Bad in more than one way.
1) For some reason it's the rare but horrible things that happen in the world which qualify as newsworthy.  Threats, murders, accidents, disasters, and scandals get top billing.
2) Stories are sensationalized, with snippets made to grab your attention rather than deliver true substance.  "Coming up, an amazing new discovery that will add years to your life..."  or "the hidden danger inside your own home that could be making you sick..."  The answers to these teasers are almost always a fairly boring one, that put in the right context isn't actually a breakthrough at all.
3) Because of the need to report the latest updates about headline stories, the shows are often repetitive.  Think of day #xxx of the BP oil disaster and you get my point.

Bad news is bad for me.
I can't easily brush off the suffering of others, their stories and their pain linger on with me.  I analyze and imagine scenarios where I might find myself in a similar situation.  This makes me sad and fearful.  This is the opposite of happy.

Is it because I am unusually empathetic?  Is it because I'm a mother whose heartstrings are more easily pulled?  Am I somehow flawed for not being able to distance myself?  Or perhaps it is the news that has changed, becoming increasingly shocking and dramatic as it vies for the public's attention.

I don't need it, and I don't miss it.
I continue to stay informed, even perusing news sites on a daily basis.  But I keep away from those stories with morbid or depressing headlines (which seems to be a great majority of them).  Sometimes I still read them, and often regret doing so.

I know many will think I am being naive, wanting to be blissfully ignorant (yes Dad, I hear you saying this).  But I'm okay with that.  I think a little bit of ignorance in this case is good, even necessary.

Media influence is strong.
There is absolutely a correlation between what information/stories/events we are exposed to and how we feel about the world we live in.  If we are constantly barraged with warnings about crazed psychopathic killers on the loose, we are bound to feel afraid and mistrusting of others.  It's a natural response, it's how we adapt to our surroundings and survive.

But this is completely unnatural.  It's not normal to know the gruesome details of every bad deed done by the few among hundreds of millions of us.  Though real and true, these stories fail to represent the vast majority of law abiding and downright pleasant folk out there.  Ordinary nice people don't get screen time, they are taken for granted.

Look for example at what it's done to Halloween.
Think back on those treasured  memories of being a kid excited to dress up and ring the neighbor's doorbells asking for candy.  Kids don't do this anymore!  They go to safe havens instead, such as the mall, zoo or shopping center.  Parents feel it's too dangerous, that you can't trust strangers, even in your own neighborhood.

This can all be traced back to media hype, DESPITE a lack of any true danger!
In 1985, Joel Best, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, studied media reports going back to 1958 and found no evidence "that any child has ever been killed or seriously harmed by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating." Most of the 100 or so cases of alleged poisoning over the past 50 years, he adds, were probably hoaxes.

Speaking of media, I highly recommend using DVR device such as TiVo to help minimize (or eliminate) time wasted on commercial advertisements.  You can actually focus on watching your favorite shows at a time and pace that is convenient for you, AND you don't have to wade through the muck of sponsors trying to sell you things.  Saving time and saving sanity, who wouldn't love that?

1 comment:

  1. ...and, as for me, I continue to stay in touch with my world and all that goes on around me, as best as I can.

    While I totally agree with your insetion that we can NOT and should NOT allow ourselves to be shapen and shaken by only those bad examples in our world. However, I do believe in being informed of my sorrounding and my world, as I go about making choices and living my daily life.

    As you articulated and hinted very nicely, I do NOT believe in burying my head in the sand and assuming that artificial peace and quite to be my true reality.