Over the last year or so I’ve gradually stopped reading, listening to and watching the news on purpose. (That is, I don’t seek out news stories but if an informative article is shared by a friend or posted on a favourite blog I very well may read it.) Here are some reasons why you should do the same:
- The vast majority of news providers put a sensational spin on the stories they report whether it is by taking a quote out of context, injecting controversy into even the most mild of disagreements or completely misrepresenting the latest scientific research.
- Sound-bite debates. Not every debate can or should be framed as one extreme viewpoint arguing loudly with the other. Not only is there a planet’s worth of opinions on any topic (only a minority of which are actually extremist), most people are perfectly capable of embracing the grey in life. Us vs. Them ™ may make for an exciting news story but it doesn’t reflect the vast majority of human relationships.
- A steady diet of worst-case scenarios ignites fear. If most of what you hear about the world are stories about murder, rape, kidnapping, war, starvation, disease and deadly household products it becomes so easy to assume that this is what awaits you ever time you step outdoors. There are people in my life who live in fear in part because they believe that what is on the news is an accurate reflection of reality.
- There’s no such thing as an unbiased journalist or news group. If you hear someone claim to be just reporting the facts (unless they are, in fact, just rattling off a list of numbers without any exposition!) take a hard look at what they’re saying. Bias isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. As humans we will always be constrained by our perspective in life. The trick is to acknowledge it and to gather ideas from as many other people as possible. Listening to one news source can hamper this…especially if your beliefs match up well enough that they never challenge your assumptions.
- Also consider the problem of manufactured controversy. In an effort to appear unbiased news organizations often try to show every side to an issue…even when 99% of the experts on that topic agree. Climate change is an excellent example of this. Despite what the US news may report, there is a consensus on this topic. Does that mean that we will never find new information that alters what we believe to be true? Of course not! But the “controversy” on this topic exists only to bring higher ratings on the news and in a few radical groups. The actual data that has been gathered so far tells a far different story.
How Do You Know What’s Happening, Then?
Most often I hear about what is going in the world from friends and family or come across an article or post about that specific event while reading my RSS feed. I’m not dogmatic about avoiding any whisper of local or worldwide news. One story isn’t going to make my head explode (I hope. 😉 ) It just isn’t something I intentionally seek out.