I was introduced to the concept of going on a media diet during the first Reagan Administration when supply-side economics, which led to the economic meltdown we are drowning in now, was launched. I witnessed the media complicity in Reagan’s calculated tactic of promoting falsehoods (i.e., lying) by issuing erroneous information under the guise of “facts” that were splattered across the front page of the newspaper in Apocalypse Now Font, only to be refuted and corrected a few days later in bacteria-sized font and buried on page twelve.
During the Reagan Era (and Bush Sr. after him), I took care to monitor how much news I allowed myself to absorb because if I exposed myself to too much of it then I got terribly depressed and it affected my ability to function. When Clinton became president, I thought perhaps I could safely tune in to the media more often. But the media feeds on negativity and it was a challenge to find positive news. It seemed as if most news items were violent, sensationalist, tragic, mundane, insignificant, foolish, or all of the above. I did not wish to ignore the events that were shaping the world, but I was burned out on the blood-frenzy for reader-feel-bad journalism.
Then along came W. and I couldn’t stand to even see his mug in the paper. I depended on NPR, alternative news, Amy Goodman, Molly Ivens, Michael Moore, Al Franken, Jon Stewart, and a host of other rebel journalists (eventually Rachel Maddow and MSNBC) to keep me afloat and, honestly, to keep me laughing so I didn’t drown in despair. But eventually the spiral toward disaster overwhelmed me. I chose to just say no. After W. and his stable of crooks stole the 2004 election I bought a Bush Countdown Clock, hung it on my wall, and never opened a newspaper. All I needed to know was how many more days I had to endure the village idiot in the White House.
After Obama was elected, I thought it might be safe to crawl out from under my rock. Not so. The mainstream media continues to worship negative and useless stories. Not to mention the ones that are flat out false. But over the years I have learned to efficiently filter the news. I particularly like science, technology, nature, and health/medicine news. I like to read about good things that happened to people. I search for stories that raise my spirits and I have figured out where and how to find feel-good news. I appreciate articles that cheer me, nourish me, and reaffirm my faith in the miraculous.
This blog post was prompted by an article sent to me by Akili (my son) about why the news is “bad for us.” He was curious to hear what I thought of it. I disagree with much that is in the article, which advocates for not reading any news. I’m not entirely sure how the author defines the news, but I think avoiding all news is a poor choice. I am going to list some of his key points below because they are a good springboard for considering one’s personal relationship with the media. They sparked this blog and my own thoughts on how I approach the news these days. The author of the article suggests that we should stop exposing ourselves to the news because (his list, I don’t necessarily agree):
1) News is misleading (tends to focus on the wrong aspects of a story and/or provides false information or implies it).
2) News is irrelevant (has no useful purpose in the reader’s life, does nothing to improve one’s life or help one make smart decisions).
3) News is toxic (absorbing negative news causes chemical activity in the body that contributes to ill health and can also cause unhealthy mental disturbance).
4) Single news items have nothing to do with the larger transformative movements of our time and merely distract us from what is important (I love this one – astute observation).
5) Online news (gathered from the internet) in particular interrupts concentrated thought and disrupts our ability to engage in sustained cognitive function and focus (see my blog post about how the internet is ruining ourbrains).
6) News wastes our time (as we fritter away our lives reading about idiotic and irrelevant things that have no use for us – see number 2).
7) News crushes creativity (he claims things we “already know” limit creativity and says that consuming news causes us to come up with old solutions to problems).
I agree that negative and sensationalist news is detrimental. But I believe it’s important to stay on top of what's happening in the world. Contrary to point number 7 above, I frequently find the news stimulating and it sparks my creativity. I want to know the latest developments in medicine and green technology. I want to read news that makes me hopeful, kindles my sense of wonder, and reminds me of the possibilities. I love to be amazed. It takes some work to find news that does this, but I’ve gotten good at it. I am in favor of the media diet, but it takes work to establish a system for selecting news worth reading and rejecting news that serves no function and just generates bad feeling.
This is perhaps not strictly a news item, more like a story, but it exemplifies the kind of positive news items I would like to read more often.Check it out by clicking here. Reading this was a terrific use of my time and gave me something of value to take to my life. Now that’s good news.