Is “the News” Making You Sick?
The news ain’t what it used to be. In fact, it’s changed, irrevocably. And more and more, people are simply opting out, because they’re sick of it. So what’s going on and what, if anything, can you do to get high quality news these days, to really know what’s going on in your community, your country and around the world?
Here are some scary facts about “the news”:
1. There Are Far Fewer Journalists These Days: For years, media outlets have been cutting back on their news resources – specifically on high quality journalists, because those guys tend to be very expensive. This trend has only been exacerbated as news outlets struggle financially, to come to grips with fragmentation, competition and the incredible disruption to their business models, arising out of all things digital.
2. Sources are Getting Very Dodgy Indeed: As a result, much of your “news” is being shadow-written by spin merchants, being paid large amounts of money, by powerful commercial interests who want their interests to be furthered by surreptitiously gaining, if not your approval, then your complicity through silence, disinterest, or both. It’s a straightforward fact that an increasing proportion of the so-called news in your paper or the nightly news bulletin is being fed to journalists by PR agencies being paid huge dollars, to slip them into the news cycle. While editors, stretched for resources, are only too happy to accept these “freebies”. If you don’t believe me, read some of the articles in today’s paper and ask yourself, “I wonder where that article about the lack of evidence between sugar consumption and obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease originated.” Hmm?!
3. Acute Competition and Technological Disruption are Resulting in Increased Sensationalisation and Spin: With the competition to grab a small slice of your attention span running white-hot (let’s face it, you have so many choices these days!) journalists are constantly having to play to their commercial reality – driven by metrics about readership, listenership, viewing audience, etc to fuel advertising revenue, which in turn is being drawn from an ever shrinking pool of funds as a result of fragmentation (they didn’t have to worry about the behemoths of Facebook advertising and Google AdWords even five years ago). So, even the real journo’s have to put some serious spin on things to grab your attention. My local newspaper (the Sydney Morning Herald) has a list of the most read articles at the bottom of the main news page on its website. It’d make you weep to see what, in the face of potential nuclear war, real economic and social issues, etc. – aka “the important stuff” – people are actually reading! Here are the top two “most read articles” in today’s edition:
#1 – The game should hang its head in shame over City-Country farce (rugby league)
#2 – Jacenko seen kissing ex-lover while husband Oliver Curtis still in jail
Really??!!! And this, from an allegedly serious, well-respected paper that’s been servicing its market for over a century.
Maybe we’re getting the news that we deserve, rather than the news that we need.
4. Fake News: No, not everything you read in social media, or even on so-called news websites, is true. Fake news is a real thing. People just make things up to suit they’re agendas, tarting it up, making it sound credible, playing to people’s fears … and other people are believing it as truth. It’s changing whole countries. It’s a real thing and it’s a real worry. When was the last time you were duped into believing “fake news”? Answer? You have no idea. In fact sometimes you have to ask yourself, exactly where is the fake news coming from.
So the question is … what are we going to do about it?
Do we simply “tune out”? Do we just scroll endlessly through Facebook and cherry-pick the stuff we choose to believe, not really caring whether its true or not?
Charles Spurgeon once said “A preacher should have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, ” meaning that we should have both the truth, and know what’s going on in the world, so that we can share the truth in a way that’s meaningful and relevant to people.
I wonder what he would say these days?
So with the world of news having changed irrevocably, here are ..
4 Tips To Help You Figure Out What’s Actually Going On … Through the News
Tip #1 – Filter out the Dross
The so-called news is made up of so much trivia and rubbish that it’s almost beyond comprehension. Really, the stuff that they’re passing off for news these days, a great deal of it just makes me want to puke!
Even if I knew who Jacenko, her ex lover and Oliver Curtis were (and, for the record, I don’t, nor do I care to) I certainly wouldn’t be interested in who is kissing whom, while whoever is in jail. Would you? The rubbish that news outlets trot out day after day, particularly the stuff that plays on our fears … who cares?!
So I have my dross-filter turned on and working in overdrive. When I read a headline and the first paragraph, or listen to the first few words, of an alleged piece of news, I ask myself “Does this deserve my attention?” If the answer is no … it doesn’t get my attention. Simple really. It’s like an unwanted, unsolicited phone call – just hang up, move on, ignore it. Or do you want this stuff, designed as it is to play on your fears, to drag you down? Really?!
You are what you eat … and for me, being discerning about the news that I consume, is incredibly important.
Tip #2 – Find Some Trusted Sources + Understand Where They’re Coming From
Even trusted sources these days can’t be trusted completely, for the very reasons outlined above. But some are more trustworthy than others. So these days, I’m searching out specific journalists, rather than just looking at the news outlet as a whole. People whom I can get to know and to trust, up to a point. The question is … where is that point?
So when I do find them, I try to understand where they’re coming from, beyond the broad-brush of “conservative” versus “left-wing”. What barrow is this journo pushing? What things matter to them? How does this colour their perspective on the news that they report?
Everyone has a perspective. You can’t help it. But it’s important for us to get to know and understand the perspective of the journo, so that we can know up to what point, and on what issues, we can trust them.
That’s why I deliberately source my news from multiple outlets – in particular, outlets that I know to have different biases and perspectives. That way I can think about the an issue from different angles, and make up my own mind.
It’s time to stop consuming the news without thinking. Those days are well and truly over and they are never, ever coming back.
Which leads me to my next point …
Tip #3 – Consume the News Critically
No matter how driven or hard-working we are, most of us become fundamentally lazy when we plonk ourselves down in front of the box after a long day at the office, to watch the evening news. But that’s the very time that we can’t afford to let our guard down. Because the spin that I was talking about earlier, is everywhere. Everywhere!!
And the language used by the journalists is a dead give away. Take this classic beat up:
The Prime Minister was forced today, to deny rumours of a leadership challenge.
Why was the PM forced to deny talk of a leadership challenge? Was it simply because the “journalist” who reported this alleged fact, asked the PM the question, which she duly answered? Nine times out of ten, that’s exactly why, because the journalist was trying to drum up a story to justify his or her existence, in a newsroom always looking to make cuts.
Test the language. Put it under a microscope. Is it a beat up? Is it a PR spin piece? Or is it a simple reporting of the facts (something, that in news, is all too rare these days). One could take that same alleged piece of news about a leadership challenge, and report it like this:
The Prime Minister today stared down talk of a leadership challenge amongst some back benchers, and re-exerted her influence over the party.
Spin is such a grand thing, isn’t it?!
Emotive language full of innuendo, colours our perception of the facts. Strip that rubbish away, get to the facts of the matter for yourself, and make up your own mind. Oh, and by the way, please do feel free to disagree with the journo’s spin.
Which brings me to my final point …
Tip #4 – Take Time to Digest the News and Formulate Your Opinions
The news – I mean, the important issues, post the filtering out of the dross – is something that I like to think about on an ongoing basis, because it helps me, in part, to shape my opinions, and ultimately, my world view (to the latter it is but one of several key inputs).
At the end of the day, I’m not so interested in what Donald Trump tweeted at 3 am this morning, as I am in what this piece of behaviour adds to my understanding of him as a leader and his likely impact on this world going forward.
Nor am I keen to dwell on the doom and gloom that someone is trying to drum up about the economy. (Parenthetically, I am clearly of the view that way too many people are letting too much of the spin and the dross play to their fears and poison their outlook. I believe that the news really is making these people sick.)
No, I want to stand back from the daily jumble of “news” and ask myself: So Berni, what does this all really mean? What’s it telling me? Where are things headed? What are people missing? What am I missing? To what extent is my self-interest driving my perceptions? How can I react and contribute in a way that makes things better rather than making them worse?
For instance, as I read of the to-ing and fro-ing about taxation and expenditure, over time, and as I’ve observed the blatant the pork barreling of one party over the other, I’ve come to the conclusion that, in Australia at least, we spend far too much of the public purse on middle class welfare to prop up high expectations of living standards (and hence, of course, the perceived electoral prospects of the particular party who, today, happens to be doing the pork barreling), resulting in an under-expenditure on essential public infrastructure which would serve to increase the capacity of the economic and stimulate sustained growth … not to mention a growing sense of selfishness and entitlement, rather than selflessness and sacrifice.
I’ve come to that conclusion by thinking about what I see and hear from my multiple sources over time. And I’m happy to share and debate those conclusions with people, to help formulate constructive responses to what’s going on in the world today.
But sadly, too often, our ideas about, for instance, public policy, are driven by raw self-interest, rather than what’s good for the economy as a whole, for the vulnerable and the under-privileged, for lifting the less fortunate up, and so on.
An old business colleague of mine (one of the smartest guys I’ve ever known) tells me how, many years ago, a teacher of his at school said to him: Lad, you sit and think, but mostly you just sit!
I confess, I think that’s what we do, way too often, when it comes to “the news”.
But then, those are just my ramblings. What do you think?
Leave a comment below and let me know!