I Don’t Watch the News – Why Do You?

by Nate St. Pierre on April 22, 2012

I don’t watch the news because I don’t want violence and crime and fear and hatred pushed into my living room every single night. To me it’s a total no-brainer. But from what I can tell, I’m in the minority here – if not in thought, then at least in action.

This is not meant to be a hate post or a rant – I want it to be a discussion. I want to learn. I would honestly like to hear from you and understand why most people turn on the news and watch it. I’ll tell you more about why I think it’s a bad thing, and then you tell me your view in the comments, okay? We’ll chat. Civilly, please. Abusers will be blocked. And I want to be clear – when I’m talking about watching the news, I’m not talking about catching the score of today’s game, or trying to learn about a certain something or other. I’m talking about consistently watching the local evening news as a pastime, as if it’s one of the regular shows you watch. Clear? Okay, let’s go…

I think we can all agree that bad news gets most of the promotion and most of the feature stories, yes? I mean, that’s the stereotypical bad rap on news: “If it bleeds, it leads.” I don’t think we’ll get much argument on this point, but just in case, here’s a representative report – a Lear Center study from 2010 on local TV news in a major US market: http://learcenter.org/pdf/LANews2010.pdf. Crime stories got the lead over 30% of the time, and that’s only crime. That doesn’t include fatal accidents, natural catastrophes, etc, and it also doesn’t include all the other negative reporting from deeper in the show. “The news” is primarily bad news. Fair?

With the negativity being a relative given, we of course have to acknowledge that the next biggest piece of the pie is commercials. Over 25% of any given newscast is given over to advertisements. So my contention is that when you turn on the news, it’s probably close to 50% junk. And to bring in a software development phrase, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

When I looked at the front page of 8 local news sites last night (4 in Milwaukee and 4 in Chicago) in preparation for this post, I found that 4 of the 8 led with violence of some kind. Specifically in Chicago, two featured the stabbing death of an 11-year-old boy. I consider that to be junk – bad stuff coming into my awareness and filling my mind with sadness, pain, fear, and anger. I am well aware that bad things happen in this world. Come on, I’ve run philanthropy projects for three years now – I know how ugly people can be. I label this input and its accompanying affect on my person as junk. They’re promoting this content because it it’s sensational. It’s horrific. It hits people on a visceral level. And for whatever reason, it sells. People repeatedly tune in for it. And I honestly cannot understand why. If someone could tell me the answer, nicely, I would appreciate it.

I am not saying that you’re a bad person for watching this stuff, but I am saying that I can’t do it myself. Let me put it this way: I have a 10-year-old son. Many of you do, too. I would never let him watch the news at this age, at least most of the stories they feature (and it’d be hard to separate the good from the bad in a quick-hit newscast, so one can’t really watch ‘just the good stuff’). I mean, what’s he gonna think when he sees that a kid his age got stabbed to death while playing outside? He’s going to worry about the same thing happening to him. I know, because that’s what I used to worry about. I can still remember one article I read in Reader’s Digest when I was a little boy about a man getting stabbed in the stomach and dying, and for months I was afraid it would happen to me. And that was just some random guy in an article, not a boy my age in a neighborhood like mine in my own city.

But maybe I’m in the minority again here. Do you let your 10-year-old watch the news? Why or why not?

And if many of us wouldn’t let our young ones put all that ugly stuff into their minds, why would we put it into our own? Of course adults can and do ingest so much more poison than kids, which I understand, but when these images and words and stories serve no useful purpose in our lives but to raise up feelings of unease within us, what’s the @%@#% point of watching?

I see two major problems with watching the news on a regular basis. And yes, I’m aware of how sweeping a generalization that sounds, but unless you can show me an easy way to cut out the bad from newscasts and keep only the good, I’ll have to stick with it.

It poisons your mind.
How many times does someone walk outside and get murdered in the city of Chicago in a given year? 435 times, according to the latest FBI statistics. And how many times does someone walk outside and not get murdered in the city of Chicago in a given year? 2,081,425,640 times, according to me (population x days/year x 2 trips out avg/day). That means that the back-of-the-envelope-calculation odds of you getting murdered when you leave your house is 0.0000002, or 1 out of 5,000,000 times. That’s five million, yo.

The odds of you getting murdered in Chicago are so astronomically low that it would be ridiculous to even think about worrying about it. And yet what do you see virtually every night on the news? A report about someone getting murdered. Put that into your brain every day for years, and tell me you won’t get a vastly disproportionate view of how dangerous your city is. And of course that impacts the way you think and act and speak and a host of other things.

Let’s forget about the practicality for a second and think about something a little more abstract. If you’re filling your head with these kinds of thoughts, aren’t you displacing the same volume of thoughts that could be focused on better things? For instance, coming up with ways to make this world a better place, rather than complaining about how bad it currently is? When you’re focused on positive solutions, you tend to see more possibilities. When you’re focused on the negative, you tend to see more problems.

It steals your time.
This one’s easy. Let’s say you spend an hour a day consuming news in one form or another. If most of the arguments above hold true, it’s a very counterproductive way to spend that hour. If you instead spent an hour a day doing something proactive, be it as simple as consuming positive ideas, or possibly the more complex act of creating beauty, how much better would life be for you and even those around you? I guarantee you’d be healthier. 100% guarantee that. And the people around you would probably be a lot better off, too.

So here’s the deal, guys. I’m not saying that life should be all pancakes and roses. Seriously, I’m not even an optimist. But if I have the choice to ingest garbage or create beauty, I’ll take the second option every time.

This is a pretty strong opinion piece, but I know there are two sides to every topic. I really want to hear your side. Tell me what you think, and let’s discuss.

(Image source: striatic)

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