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Avoid the News
April 20, 2011 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Avoid the News: Towards A Healthy News Diet. (large-ish PDF) Go without news. Cut it out completely. Go cold turkey. Make news as inaccessible as possible . . . . After a while, you will realize that despite your personal news blackout, you have not missed – and you’re not going to miss – any important facts. If some bit of information is truly important to your profession, your company, your family or your community, you will hear it in time – from your friends, your mother-in-law or whomever you talk to or see. When you are with your friends, ask them if anything important is happening in the world. The question is a great conversation starter. Most of the time, the answer will be: “not really.”
posted by jason's_planet (113 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
I actually did this after the November 2010 midterm elections. Come to think of it, I'm still doing it. It's been good.
posted by Ratio at 5:00 PM on April 20, 2011


i can't claim to be proud of it, but i did this and it helped my general mental health quite a bit. i think maybe sometimes being an informed citizen means being a sad citizen.
posted by gorestainedrunes at 5:03 PM on April 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


How can you possibly do a news blackout when your online email account's home page features all the major daily headlines? I kinda miss the old days when the only time you'd hear about the news was around the water cooler or when you read a newspaper.
posted by zagyzebra at 5:04 PM on April 20, 2011


I think we can all agree the main problem with America is that people are too well-informed about what is going on.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:06 PM on April 20, 2011 [134 favorites]


MetaFilter is a pretty good newsfilter too. I pretty much 'read the paper' now by scanning the front page of MeFi. When I do catch a newscast all I can do is wonder at the tans and managed hairlines; everything they're saying goes right over my head.
posted by carsonb at 5:07 PM on April 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


I think we can all agree the main problem with America is that people are too well-informed about what is going on.

It's possible that a major problem in the modern world is that many people think that watching the news is synonymous with being informed about what's going on.
posted by Grangousier at 5:09 PM on April 20, 2011 [87 favorites]


I went off to Japan in the early 1990s, and until the www arrived in mid-1995, for 3 full years I was largely outside the news cycle.

I had the US AM armed forces station playing occasionally, and would also buy a Japan Times to read on the train, but my news consumption was very very low.

And it was glorious.
posted by mokuba at 5:12 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


you will hear it in time – from your friends, your mother-in-law or whomever you talk to or see.

Unless of course they took the same advice.....
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:12 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


For me, a break from listening to the news = a break from cynically attempting to decipher agendas, and such a break is indeed good.
posted by herbplarfegan at 5:14 PM on April 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


Also, don't vote or protest anything. There are people who have all of this covered for you. Maybe take up watching lots of reality TV.
posted by pompomtom at 5:16 PM on April 20, 2011 [21 favorites]


I used to watch the news avidly. It didn't change how I behaved, or who I voted for, or my stances on any issues. It didn't help me avoid any financial or natural disasters or accidents. It did, however, make me frequently angry and bitter. I stopped watching the news a few years ago (with the exception of the recent earthquake and nuclear situation), and it hasn't negatively impacted a single thing in my life, but I am angry and bitter far less frequently.
posted by Bugbread at 5:16 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Gotta say that I've given up on local TV news for the most part. Mostly crazy bullshit and made up drama. I still read the Inquirer (Philly local "real" paper) but that's more infrequent as well. You get guilty when you miss the Sunday, but you get over it. Times _are_ changing and you have to roll with it. "NEWS" is nigh inescapable these days and the Daily Show is a real good newsfilter, also what carsonb said. The big news items will hunt your ass down still, so no worries about being uninformed.
posted by djrock3k at 5:19 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I went on a canoe trip in the northern Quebec wilderness in the summer of 1990. Absolutely no contact with the outside world for six weeks. We emerged near the end of August to find the world on the brink of war over Kuwait and the Canadian army besieging a community outside Montreal. It was odd.
posted by docgonzo at 5:20 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


One easy way to do this is by sticking your head in the sand.
posted by snofoam at 5:26 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I understand the sentiment, and agree with it to a degree, but I can't help but think that avoiding being informed about the current state of the world because it's too depressing is maybe not preferable to, I don't know, staying informed but drawing on the joy you have in other parts of your life for comfort. Not that I've mastered that.

I'm reminded of the religious friend I had in high school who threw out all her books because her passion for reading was getting in the way of her relationship with God. As someone who loves knowing it killed me on the inside.
posted by danny the boy at 5:27 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I find there is a lot to like about living in North Florida, but given that "no news is good news" is the default attitude of many of my neighbors, a bit more active interest in world events is generally called for on my part. I can't say I'm a lot happier for any effort I expend to stay reasonably informed, but I'm not senselessly angry at oil companies only for higher gas prices, and I've known all spring that it's fine to eat Apalachicola oysters, which positions have been surprises to some of my news-ignoring neighbors.

What I'm not missing much since they erected their paywall is the online version of the NYT.

Mmmm.... 12 inch fried oyster poboys for $7, with fries? Sometimes, no news is good news...
posted by paulsc at 5:27 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I knew someone who took the stance that other people should watch the news for him, and other people found it annoying as if he had asked other people to read the homework for him.
posted by grouse at 5:27 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


American TV news is terrible, but I'm not sure that has anything to do with "the news."

I don't know. I feel like it wouldn't really work just to read long-form journalism like the stuff that's published in the New Yorker. For one thing, there isn't any long-form journalism about the small city in which I live, so if I don't read the local news, I have no way of knowing what the city council is doing. I also feel like breaking news does sometimes affect me. I don't know if I want to wait two months before someone in the New Yorker processes the meaning of the bill that's being voted on tomorrow, because I might want to contact my representatives and tell them what I think of it before they vote on it.
posted by craichead at 5:27 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think we all have experiences where we were too busy enjoying life to bother with the news. Looking back, we were happy because we were busy and fulfilled, not because of the lack of news. Reading the news compulsively is a symptom of unhappiness, not a cause.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:28 PM on April 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


Living as an expatriate will tend to do this for you (assuming a country where the language is difficult). Who needs to hear about yet another politican caught doing something or other, which is the kind of stuff that makes up most 'news' these days. As people have already mentioned, the big stuff will find you anyway.

It's the same sort of thing with TV overall; my kids grew up without ever having one in the house, and yet they tell me that they never felt out of touch with the zeitgeist. The stuff you need to know will find you ...
posted by woodblock100 at 5:30 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


From the PDF: This article is the antidote to news. It is long, and you probably won’t be able to skim it. Thanks to heavy news consumption, many people have lost the reading habit and struggle to absorb more than four pages straight. This article will show you how to get out of this trap – if you are not already too deeply in it.

I like how the PDF opens with a statement about how if I don't finish reading this article, it's because I've lost the ability to read long things "that require thinking." Not because I find the article itself boring and the format to be really annoying.
posted by purpleclover at 5:30 PM on April 20, 2011 [16 favorites]


I consume a hell of a lot of news, but I don't really think this article applies to me. I take news for what it generally is: cynical advertisement, earnest oversimplification, or, very rarely, unadorned worthwhile information. I don't experience any particularly strong emotions other than annoyance at the occasional blatant lie or fallacy. I'm fascinated by the whole-cloth construction of narratives, the fictionalization of truths. I like gazing into that particular abyss.

I'm comfortable with it because I tend to think a modicum of critical thinking skills will inoculate anybody against taking any source of information so seriously that it ruins their brain. I find I'm still capable of reading a book if I want to learn something.
posted by Nomiconic at 5:32 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have to admit, I've been trying to reduce my news intake, too. It's just too depressing and maddening. It's just BE AFRAID BE VERY AFRAID!!!! 24/7. Even the local news presents every throwaway story as if OMGTHEY'RECOMINGTOKILLYOURGRANDMOTHER!!!!!!!!! It's just too much

Perversely, as I'm trying to reduce my news intake, I'm beating myself up for sticking my head in the sand and avoiding what's happening in the world.

Damned Catholic guilt.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:33 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It may not make a difference in your life if you know what's happening or not. Most people rarely make use of the sort of information that comprises most news, especially global news. It just doesn't affect most peoples' day-to-day behavior, but it often feels important and important to know about, e.g., recent political turmoil in Arab nations. But there's just no way for the majority of, just to be really solipsistic here, Americans to make use of that information in any meaningful way. So I suppose I see how it could be given up.
posted by clockzero at 5:33 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


And for what it's worth, I don't read the author as advocating being uninformed. I think he just believes that you're better off paying attention to stuff that is produced over a longer period of time, rather than reading stuff that is written to deadline.
posted by craichead at 5:33 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


If some bit of information is truly important to your profession, your company, your family or your community, you will hear it in time – from your friends, your mother-in-law or whomever you talk to or see

important information like how NOBAMA IS RAISING TAXES TO BUILD A MOSQUE AT THE WHITE HOUSE AND YOU HAVE TO STAY AWAY FROM MALLS ON THE FOURTEENTH ON ACCOUNT OF WHAT A CAB DRIVER SAID TO MY UNCLE'S FRIEND -- VERY REAL AND SCARY!!!
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 5:35 PM on April 20, 2011 [16 favorites]


Agree very much with every point in Rolf Dobelli's report. And I have worked my whole life in journalism -- local papers, national wire services, radio, all manner of commercial websites, even interned in local television news -- and there's almost nothing I ever worked on that did anybody any good. There's nothing that anyone I know in the whole media world has done that did anybody any good. News is crap, and you've got to make it up again every day, year after year. I work in political satire now and people often say "I prefer this to the news," which is a compliment, but they would be better off ignoring all of it. Nobody needs daily political news, daily accident news, daily half-baked science press release news, dumb celebrity and sports news. Nobody needs this, and if it's not stressing you out, it's filling your mind with empty garbage, lust, greed, gossip.

The only times I've been able to shut off the news entirely have been when I've gone into hiding to write books, or gone on vacation travels where I've intentionally avoided the news cycle. It's like getting your brain and your soul back, at the same time. A year or so back, I figured out cable news was unnecessary, even if I write a lot of mockery of cable news. (People will find and upload the offending material, have no doubt.) So the teevee finally went. Wonderful. Haven't subscribed to a newspaper in 10 years. Unnecessary. And the day I can retire from Monday-Friday eight-hour shifts of following the national news for work, I doubt I'll glance at the news more than once a month, if that.

As the Rolf Dobelli paper says, stuff that's relevant to your life will filter up from the sludge. We're all surrounded by devices and screens and radios and home pages even the damned gas pumps yelling out headline news. There's no way something crucial will pass you by.

If anything, a local newspaper or local news website might be useful for community stuff -- battery recycling day, the tree-lighting festival date and time, stuff like that. Just throw away the whole front page section with the car crashes and the child abuse and the despondent drug addicts. It's not like you don't know these things exist. It's not like reading a shitty 400-word news article about it will change anybody's situation, either. That takes action, not voyeurism.
posted by kenlayne at 5:37 PM on April 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


I read the article and I can tell you that there is nothing new in it.
posted by storybored at 5:39 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Many news sources are bad. Here are some good news sources:

BBC
NPR
PBS
The New York Times
The Economist
Foreign Affairs

I'm sure that regular exposure to these news sources would be detrimental to a few people, but surely not for most people.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:41 PM on April 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


The main problem with the news is that it's so full of false reassurances.

Things are quite a bit worse than any major news outlet is willing to tell us.
posted by jamjam at 5:42 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


The problem with most news is that it's not important TO YOU, right NOW. Most news is a collection of depressing little facts and updates to stuff you already know. It's the addiction to "knowing" what's going on that's the problem - if the news actually told you what's actually happening, you'd know things, and you might go out and do something about it. Which defeats the "purpose" of news, because they want you to COME BACK in an hour, a day, a week.

Agrees with storybored, goes out for pizza.
posted by sneebler at 5:42 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I get pretty much all my news from MeFi and twitter, and most of it is incidental. That means I learn about only the important stuff: war, natural disasters, and celebrity deaths, with a smattering of politics.
posted by kyleg at 5:44 PM on April 20, 2011


Coming next week... Be Nice To People: How To Picture Yourself In Their Podiactric Accessories

from the author of Assume Not! You May End Up With Less Chicks Than Eggs
posted by BeerFilter at 5:44 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I stopped watching the "news" the day that Katie Couric was interviewing some ladies of the U.S. Olympic Women's Swimming Team about their new high-tech swimsuits and asked one of them, "Don't you feel fat in that?"

Several years on, I can still make my heart rate jump by saying quietly to myself, "Don't you feel fat in that?" Fuck Katie Couric* and fuck American "news."

*OK, she redeemed herself a bit with the Palin interviews, but shit.
posted by thebrokedown at 5:48 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, I just cant agree with ignorance is bliss. I don't find that healthy, individually, for a nation or planet.
posted by SirOmega at 5:50 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have to disagree pretty strongly with the idea that, "if it doesn't affect me directly, I am free to ignore it." People in past eras were genuinely unaware if a war or a famine or a genocide was happening over the next hill. I feel like if we can be aware, we have a moral duty to be aware. Even if we can't personally do anything, we owe our fellow human beings our awareness. (And of course we can do something, by voting and protesting.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:51 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I will say that I have, in the last year or so, found myself genuinely depressed by the news for the first time. I think maybe that says more about my personal mental state than the news, but still. Something about the Bradley Manning case in particular really really scares and depresses me to read about. Maybe because the idea of that kind of psychological torture is scarier to me than a thousand earthquakes or bombs or whatever.

So, as a counterpoint, I do think people have the right to look after their own mental health and look away from things they just can't stomach sometimes.

posted by drjimmy11 at 5:54 PM on April 20, 2011


I have to disagree pretty strongly with the idea that, "if it doesn't affect me directly, I am free to ignore it."
That really isn't what he's saying. Did you get to this bit?
Society needs journalism – but in a different way. Investigative journalism is relevant in any society. We need more hard-core journalists digging into meaningful stories. We need reporting that polices our society and uncovers the truth. The best example is Watergate. But important findings don’t have to arrive in the form of news. Often, reporting is not time sensitive. Long journal articles and in-depth books are fine forums for investigative journalism – and now that you’ve gone cold turkey on the news, you’ll have time to read them.
posted by craichead at 5:55 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh sorry I didn't honestly read the article yet. I was responding more to what people were saying in the comments.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:57 PM on April 20, 2011


I've found that I can cover what matters most to me with a finely tuned RSS feed, to get what matters vs all the daily convulsions of long-running news cycles.

The hard thing to admit to yourself is that really, knowing the issues and caring and keeping track really have no effect on the narrative. We've been sold a myth of participatory democracy which is counter to the sub-narrative, which is that your US Congress assholes are really busy chasing after money and, if you have none to offer, will take your message and try really hard not to sigh and roll their eyes as they immediately round-file it.

Then again, I alternate my time between a major network newsroom and a local network newsroom, so something like this takes some work. But I've done it, and it's really worth it.
posted by nevercalm at 5:58 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


OK, I think "read in-depth news instead of breaking news" is a reasonable stance. I just didn't get that stance from the rest of the article, which seemed to be saying "avoid the news", hence the title.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:58 PM on April 20, 2011


Oh sorry I didn't honestly read the article yet. I was responding more to what people were saying in the comments.

See? It works!
posted by Floydd at 6:00 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I ceased reading the newspaper, dedicated news sites, and watching news programs in 2007. But yet, I still keep up with all the relevant news without a hitch. HOW CAN THIS BE? Most all real news is repetitively transmitted at parties and the average social juncture. You don't get the details, but you can always just search for it on the web later as there is someone somewhere nerding out about the events unfolding, or you might actually know someone who knows someone on the ground. This isn't a crazy idea, human social relations show the excellent features of a small world network. This of course raises the question as to why there even are news organizations. I suspect that the newspaper originally served the purpose of 'catching up' on the grape vine, and to transmit such gossip across long distances for cheap. Today though, I find the newspaper to be completely useless and totally disconnected from what I'll tell another person and likely hear from another person. I don't care about Charlie Sheen, yet the newspaper thinks he is pertinent to my life and business.
posted by TwelveTwo at 6:04 PM on April 20, 2011


I agree with Chesterton:
It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that the moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth. That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles. Busy editors cannot be expected to put on their posters, ‘Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe,’ or ‘Mr. Jones, of Worthing, Not Dead Yet.’ They cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complete picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; the can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:04 PM on April 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


I really do get all my news from MeFi and the news section of the Wikipedia front page. I've still consumed more news in the past two or three years than in any previous five (or even ten) years combined.

A friend of mine listens to a local conservative talk-radio guy (Jim Quinn, if you're interested, or in Pittsburgh), and when a coworker asked him if he could listen to something else for a change (NPR, I think), he responded hotly with the old "Don't you want to be informed about what's going on in the world?!" The coworker was from Africa.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:04 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh sorry I didn't honestly read the article yet. I was responding more to what people were saying in the comments.

This is MetaFilter; no need to apologize for not having read the article.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:05 PM on April 20, 2011


I suppose it depends on your definition of news? I mean when I look at the Google News feed for LA, I learn about all kinds of events / shows / concerts I might want to go to. Thats not something I'm going to wait for "long form" journalism for. They are articles in newspapers, so I'm tempted to call them news, but I know it's not what this article is talking about --- which makes me wonder what we even mean by news here.

For example, a lot of commenters seem to be equating TV news with "the news", when I think of news primarily as print. All of my news consumption is on the web, aside from the Daily Show.

Getting your news from MeFi, for example, is still getting the news. Avoiding the news aside from longform stuff would mean avoiding discussion forums, etc. The author never really defines what he means by news other than this breaking/longform distinction which seems wildly insufficient.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:06 PM on April 20, 2011


Hey - who won that thing with the Tutsis and the Hutus?

Bush was for the Braves, if I recall.
posted by pressF1 at 6:11 PM on April 20, 2011


why? Because a well-informed citizen makes a good voter.
Does it matter that your president has been shot>? that a terror attack took place in your state?
That your nation invaded a country? Nah. Who cares!
posted by Postroad at 6:11 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The reaction over the recent crisis in Japan sounded the death-knell for mainstream news media, in my eyes. I knew, logically, that the news was entertainment which was hyped and built up and blatantly lied about for ratings....but I had not seen it first-hand before.
Seeing it from the inside looking out, I was positively disgusted.
I will never believe the news again.
posted by nightchrome at 6:14 PM on April 20, 2011


I understood the piece as regarding 'news as a feast.' Like, "This is the time I find out about the world, by reading through as many articles as I can as they are blasted at me via CNN.com and Fox News television." Where your behavior is directed toward news gathering like how some hungry forager is gorging on loganberry bushes. I recommend instead, 'socialize.' And then, if anything appears relevant, 'research.' And if you discover anything, 'socialize.' What has changed today from yesterday should not be passively accepted in isolation, but actively inspected in collaboration.
posted by TwelveTwo at 6:14 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to be a daily newspaper/TV news consumer, back through all of elementary, middle, and high school. My mom subscribed to the Newark Star-Ledger, and also left the TV on and tuned to newscasts during meals. After September 11th, I found it was contributing significantly to anxiety for me. After I went away to college, I began the slow process of extricating myself from those habits. I still miss the funnies, but I'm generally much, much happier. I get my "news" now via metafilter (if it's really important, it's here) and by leaving NPR on in the car (though they're just as likely to be talking about, I don't know, organic food as they are world events). Sometimes I get a bit of celebrity news via my husband.

I do wonder what things will be like next election round. During the last one, I was an avid Hilary supporter and so plunged myself back into THE NEWS momentarily, plus started following a bunch of politics blogs. Not sure that I'd do the same this election. Didn't feel like it made much of a difference except to make me unhappier.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:15 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Postroad, that's the "important stuff" that'll "get to you eventually". But Paris Hilton and fifty new ways to dress up your dog or whatever aren't important, and that's far too much of the volume of what clogs the traditional channels of news.

The friend I mentioned above refers to commentary as "the news" without irony.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:17 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Opting out of CNN altogether has done more for my sanity in the past six months than almost anything else I could have done.

Having said that, I automatically mistrust any piece of writing that starts of by telling me that it is "the antidote" to something and implies that "our ancestral past" was a time when we had more active control over our destinies without the corrupting influence of news.
posted by blucevalo at 6:18 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have to disagree pretty strongly with the idea that, "if it doesn't affect me directly, I am free to ignore it." People in past eras were genuinely unaware if a war or a famine or a genocide was happening over the next hill. I feel like if we can be aware, we have a moral duty to be aware.

You're making the assumption that people are following high quality news sources and processing what they learn in a thoughtful manner, which is often most definitely not the case. The vast majority of the news that we have easy access to in America is very low quality. I know plenty of people who read/watch lots of news and have so much information that is factually wrong it's untrue. Being uninformed may be bad but I would argue that being MISinformed is worse.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:24 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been doing this for about 20 years.
I have never, ever, felt uninformed about anything of any relevance or interest.
posted by signal at 6:24 PM on April 20, 2011


blucevalo, I dislike the calls to primordial freedom just the same. Nonetheless, I do think the news is not merely redundant beside to a social public life, but actively obscures it. A better point would be that removing yourself from the news system is not the solution, but it allows you to see clearly what that solution is. And that solution is a pint with friends and some concern about the world. The public sphere didn't disappear, the importance of your voice and the passing of news across the phone has a political effect, facts are to be checked, your friends are better filters of relevancy and political importance, news is never objective, and your very presence in a conversation has an impact on the great social project that is civilization.
posted by TwelveTwo at 6:29 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have never, ever, felt uninformed about anything of any relevance or interest.

Is it a blissful feeling?
posted by cashman at 6:30 PM on April 20, 2011


The "our ancestral past" thing seemed more to me to be about how our brains and minds evolved, and how they still pretty much work, than about how we should return to our past, except in the "too much sugar is bad for you" way.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:31 PM on April 20, 2011


And I have worked my whole life in journalism ... There's nothing that anyone I know in the whole media world has done that did anybody any good.

Seriously?
I mean really, Seriously ???
posted by Poet_Lariat at 6:33 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I stopped watching the "news" the day that Katie Couric was interviewing some ladies of the U.S. Olympic Women's Swimming Team about their new high-tech swimsuits and asked one of them, "Don't you feel fat in that?"

For me, it was the plane crash of John Kennedy and watching the news anchor waste time interviewing a gaggle of people who knew a Kennedy in between solemn reports that there were no new developments but they'll keep the coverage going.

Just this week, I saw a "news" clip of five journalist talking heads debating Rob Bell's book about the possibility of universal salvation. It was four Catholics and a Jew, giving opinions about a book they had never read about a theological debate that was happening outside of their congregations.

So I don't think that the 24/7 news services are really offering news any more. There's little fact checking in the rush to report anything, and they fill the dead air with contrived gameshow-like debates between anyone they can pay to sit down for the time slot. I was stuck in a bank lobby for an hour listening to a CNN analyst deliver Kreskin-like predictions about how Charlie Christ was going to raise money as an independent. That's next week's news after you've hit the phones for a day getting political boosters on the record. The dead-tree newspapers at least had the good sense to put the unsourced and opinionated speculation on the editorial page.

And that's not touching how the news media routinely gets manipulated by Republican ratfuckers, or manufactures controversy by making a point of interviewing singular nuts in order to provide "equal time" for a "movement"? (An example of both were the PUMAs who were predicted to tear the 2008 Democratic Convention apart.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:35 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I watch the news for weather and traffic in the A.M. The forecasts are usually very accurate.

To increase the accuracy of your predictions, cut
out the news and roll the dice or, if you are ready
for depth, read books and knowledgeable journals
to understand the invisible generators that affect
our world


That made me laugh.
posted by Max Power at 6:35 PM on April 20, 2011


The "our ancestral past" thing seemed more to me to be about how our brains and minds evolved, and how they still pretty much work, than about how we should return to our past, except in the "too much sugar is bad for you" way.

Brains and minds are plastic, even their plasticity is plastic. Its nature is a nature that nurtures itself, that de-natures itself. We may start with the same count of neurons, but it is only a matter of the intense similarity of our shared experiences and conditions that they organize similarly after a few years of continued interaction with our radically identical information environments. There never was and never will be a classic original flavor. Every call to the past is a call to some ideal grounded in the present, and this call within this text is just as grounded in the contemporary. But take this as a good thing, because look at what we are idealizing as supreme.
posted by TwelveTwo at 6:40 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I watch the news for weather and traffic in the A.M. The forecasts are usually very accurate.

Really? I find the weather reports to be just as sensationalist as the rest of it. It seems every time I go home, the news my mother is watching is all about getting panicked about EXTREME WEATHER! Heat waves! Storms! Blizzards of the century! So stay tuned after the commercials! And so on and so forth.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:40 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


The people who did this in my town this weekend ran the risk of dying. Just sayin'.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:42 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not saying that all weather reports are inaccurate. But I find the tone of the local weather makes it very difficult to tell when actual dangerous weather is actually, you know, happening.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:43 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


An interesting thought, TwelveTwo. Never looked at it that way.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:43 PM on April 20, 2011


Finally, the producers of those Somebody Else's Problem fields from HGTTG got an advocate.

God damn do I hate evolutionary psychology.
posted by NoraReed at 6:44 PM on April 20, 2011


Weather forecasts are probably still more accurate than other kinds. In James Gleick's Chaos there's a bit (whose ultimate source I forget) about how even if you could put a tiny weather station in every cubic foot of atmosphere, you still couldn't predict the weather further ahead than five days. There are already five-day forecasts, so we might be as good as we can really get on that one.

But nobody can really predict which hyperbolic "revolutions" are going to be really revolutionary. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:48 PM on April 20, 2011


On the topic of predicting hyperbolic revolutions. Here's a good book.
posted by TwelveTwo at 6:49 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I absolutely agree that you need to be picky about your news sources or you'll be overwhelmed. Just like you'll never read all the great books, you can never be informed about everything going on in the world. It's really a matter of getting the firehose down to something you can drink from without drowning and that you don't find poisonous to your mental and emotional health. Giving up news completely forever, unless you just can't stand the news, seems like a bit of overkill to me.
posted by immlass at 6:50 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Weather: I go to NOAA. Almost the same information and possibly the same sources. And it's actually a quicker way to find out what's going on during heavy weather compared to local radio. It's really freaky that I'll hear sirens, turn on the radio and get routine programming for another 5-10 minutes.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:52 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, there are two issues being discussed here, really: whether it's a good idea to avoid the "news", where "news" is defined as "mainstream news broadcast or printed for American audiences", and whether it's a good idea to avoid the "news" where "news" is defined as "high quality information about what is going on in the world". (Of course, there are lots of other possibilities, like news in countries other than America, etc., but so far the discussion seems to focus on those two).

As such, I think a lot of people appear to be in disagreement, but it's actually because they're interpreting "news" differently.

That said (and I know this is an unpopular sentiment for MetaFilter), I think the reality is that "it entirely depends on the person".

If you're the kind of person who participates in protests, or engages in activism, or proselytizes to those around you, or the like, yes, you should definitely watch the news. If you're the kind of person who is not on the fence politically, and not into activism at all, and doesn't proselytize, then there is no reason to watch the news. It won't change who you vote for, it won't change whether or not you attend some rally, it won't change anything. There is no blanket "everyone should" or "everyone shouldn't", any more than "everyone should get earthquake insurance" or "nobody should learn German".
posted by Bugbread at 7:00 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The ethical obligation to pay constant attention to the news worked when it was a "push" medium. You got a newspaper on your doorstep once a day, Walter Cronkite on the television once a day, and a magazine on a weekly basis. You picked it up/You used it to line the cat pan or pet cage. You turned it on/You turned it off. Perhaps an hour in the morning, and an hour in the evening.

The news media still wants to be a "push" medium. They want you on the hook because they sell your virtual ears and eyeballs to advertisers.

But we have 24/7 and random access. We have software that can filter through mass quantities of headlines and tags so we don't need to read hourly updates about Charlie Sheen selling top secret bubble gum recipes to Belgium or what brand of condoms Prince William puts on the royal wiener. We don't need to watch the tit for tat bloviating of talking heads over complex issues they just learned about this morning, unless we want to, and then, we can watch it autotuned. We have social networks that give us more news that we can read in a day.

And when that software delivers something we need to know about, we can triangulate sources across multiple news agencies and publishers.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:26 PM on April 20, 2011


Most of what we call "news" is really just a not-very-entertaining form of entertainment; a diversion no more valuable than a crossword or a comic book. It used to be pretty much the only option and it's been riding the long tail towards obsolescence ever since.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:33 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of all the things I step away from occasionally, the one I couldn't see going without for too long is MetaFilter. I ignore Twitter a lot more, especially when I'm busy, and don't feel like I miss much. When I do have time and I need something beyond these sources, I have other sites to consult, and automatic email newsletters/alerts from various news outlets, and Google Alerts, and an RSS feed aggregator if I'm really bored. I don't deliberately peruse news websites anymore; everything I need to see gets to me eventually. And I work in the news!

When it comes to news, I still pretty much feel the way I felt in college, if perhaps a bit less histrionic about it all.
posted by limeonaire at 7:40 PM on April 20, 2011


Don't these people find the things that are happening in the world interesting? That the news is irrelevant to my immediate circumstances is itself irrelevant. I don't read the news to Effect Change or to figure out who to vote for or to find out what's on fire today. I read the news because I was born knowing nothing and it pleases me to progress from that state. I don't understand the world yet. I live in it but I'm still learning what's it's like. I interact with systems but I'm still learning how they work. I know people but I'm still learning what they're capable of. And as much I care about "[my] profession, [my] company, [my] family [and my] community" (or, as much as I would if I had more than two and a half of those things) they're not all there is and they can't teach me everything I want to know about what's possible, or about what is. That's why I go places, that's why I watch films, that's why I listen to old people's stories, that's why I sit around thinking, that's why I bend down and look at things really close even though it hurts my knees, and that's why I read the news, every day. I'm not talking about long-form, in-depth journalism either. I just want to hear about what's happening.

For instance, I kept up with the Mediator diabetes drug scandal in France, even though I'm not French or diabetic and it had nothing to do with me whatsoever. But I found out something about how the French organise their drug regulation system, about what can happen in spite of it, about how people react when it happens, and about how all of that gets reported in French- and English-language media. And that was... Wonderful. So I'm not stopping.


(CNN is rubbish though, I'll give you that.)
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:00 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


As defined, news is not news, it is going to a restaurant and having the waiter order for you based on his preferences, and whether or not he thinks you're fat. "You look like you need to eat more fat." Well, I am going logging later...

We get confused because we think we're hearing about big stories that can't be ignored, e.g. Egypt riots, so we think we're learning about what's happening in the world. But that "news" was decision treed out to you. Why Egypt and not Tunisia? Or, why Libya now and not Egypt now? etc. Those are subtle. I'm sure you can come up with your own examples.

Most educated people worry about bias in their news, is it left or right or safe or what angle are the sponsors pushing? But those are small potato(e)s, Danny Q. There is no overarching bias, at all, there is no "goal" or "message" or "worldview" that the "media" is pushing. It's a set of right-now, what benefits us? decisions about what to broadcast, what's going to play well with the 18-25? that we take in as our view of the world. That's what you get when you have to compete against everything connected to electricity. They are purveyors of junk food, incredulous: "wait, you mean we made these potato chips, and you're eating them exclusively???"

Here's a basic example, picked at random, from ten minutes ago: on Fox News home page, the lead story is, "McDonalds Hiring Day Goes Horribly Wrong." Is it news? Useful? No. You understand it's sensationalist "black people are idiots" Fox news propaganda. But you understand that because you hate Fox News. If you didn't hate it, what would you have learned today?

MSNBC: "Samar Hassan screams after her parents were killed by U.S. Soldiers." The photo is horrific, it looks EXACTLY like a taliban beheading video, but it's the opposite. What did we learn today?

Those stories are chosen, out of the quadrillions of events much more important than both, not because of political or ideological bias but because they know that's what you want. If you're watching it, it's for you.

Two things result: you learned something out of context that has no value; you did not learn something else.

The mistake most people make is they think they can go somewhere else for their news. There is nowhere else. They all operate under the same immediate benefit journalistic model.

This is inescapable. Short of being there, the best you can do is to take in what you see and read-- there are no news sources free of this-- and ask yourself the most fundamental question of media, "what does the author want to be true?"
posted by TheLastPsychiatrist at 8:07 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Most people define news as information, and understanding its role as information in your life is where these suggestions are coming from. News - defined here as the kind of information that 24 news channels or daily newspapers disseminate - really isn't great information. It fails to fulfill some of the basic demands that we would expect from information were we to get it from another source that isn't so culturally ingrained to fail in this way.

We're used to much of the news being irrelevant to our interests; or that it is some way unusable despite its pertinence; but worse it's often simply malformed and likely to be wrong in some yet-to-be-discovered way. For example, most people don't care about the politics of Mali, and while they might care about starvation in that country there's very little they can do; yet even if they try to do something the facts upon which they base action turn are unsound. Human curiosity often makes the news less obviously worthless, and even the less noble search for entertainment (or worse a vicarious thrill) can still drive news consumption, but nothing can overcome its failings.

Hence the advice to read books or at least long-form journalism. It requires an active selection based upon our preferences and the time distance taken to create these kinds of writing means that facts are better known. Though usability can still be low, many books and articles are messaged in a particular way, such as to consume less or boycott a company and so on.

In short, it's a call to slow down and get the information you need, not just what's available.
posted by Jehan at 8:11 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, Christ, this was a silly article.

"I've found the solution to poor literacy! Illiteracy!"

There were so many assertions made there without proof, or that relied on subjective definitions and appeals to about seventy billion types of fallacies that it simply wasn't worth finishing. (Insert pithy snark here.)
posted by klangklangston at 8:21 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's true, if I didn't care about the lives and fates of people I didn't know, I probably would be happier.

If some bit of information is truly important to your profession, your company, your family or your community...

Heck, if I could learn to not care about my family or community too, I'd probably be even happier.
posted by chortly at 8:38 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Don't these people find the things that are happening in the world interesting?"

I dunno who "these people" are, but as one of the people who has pretty much stopped watching news: Yes, I find them interesting, but the negative side effects outweigh the positive effects for me. There's plenty of other interesting stuff out in the world which doesn't leave me feeling angry or depressed.
posted by Bugbread at 8:38 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


For me, the moral aspect attached to keeping abreast of current events via the news is dodgy. The news is always heavily curated, at the very least. Even if there were such a thing as 'news you can trust', or even 'news you can use', there's no way to absorb an entire planet's worth of significant information in real time. You always have to be willfully ignoring something, and with the news, the decisions about what you don't get to ignore on a given day are made by people, not the truth fairy.

The news has no special authority to tell me what to care about. My soul will not be condemned to hell if I don't cry myself to sleep every night over the epic tragedy of life on Earth as narrated by newspaper X. Avoiding news media is not the same as dropping out of the world. I think of it more as choosing not to suck on an exhaust pipe.

There's enough information in the air that you'd have to literally bury your head in the sand to remain blissfully ignorant, and if you have any kind of life that involves things other than watching the news, you are probably plugged into the world in all kinds of good other ways.

ostriches don't really bury their heads in the sand.
posted by Casimir at 8:58 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have some personal rules that govern my consumption of "the news" and they seem to work well, at least in making sure I contemplate whats happening instead of stupidly getting caught up in it.

1) Watch The Daily Show and Colbert. No TV anything else newsy.
2) Check out articles about the stories on Daily Show/ Colbert.
3) No radio anything that has to do with information. Its just not a good medium for thinking.
4) Metafilter.
5) Pick up a monthly or weekly magazine like The Economist or The Atlantic once in a while.
6) Watch documentaries on events that are no longer current but are still very relevant.
7) Finally, don't give a shit about vast swaths of the information ecology. Care just enough to be literate about most of the rest. And choose a few topics to be very well informed on.

I think the biggest key is that reading stuff is 100x better than watching or listening to stuff, and reading long form investigative reports is the best.
posted by Glibpaxman at 10:12 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's enough information in the air that you'd have to literally bury your head in the sand to remain blissfully ignorant

But look around you.

I think people overstate the extent to which the news' usefulness is really limited by the fact that other humans decide how it will be, or the fact that it can't present us with an exhaustive account of everything that's going on in the world ordered according to some objective measure of its cosmic importance. No, we can't afford to just sit there open-mouthed, uncritically absorbing whatever Brooke Baldwin has to tell us that day. Yes, there are serious limitations inherent to the whole enterprise of selecting and presenting information about world events. And that's interesting to contemplate, and important to be aware of, but it's a huge leap from there to believing that not getting the news is just as good as getting it, and that there's really nothing there to miss out on.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:19 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


After leaving the US and its all-encompassing Everything Is Political News-O-Rama, I discovered that I no longer needed the Daily Show in much the same way that a diabetic no longer needs insulin injections after making substantial changes to the diet and lifestyle.

The news is a lot less wholly depressing when it's approached on your own terms only, and those terms tend to involve, yes, avoiding major news outlets and allowing major events to find their inevitable way to you (and frankly, as terrible a person as it makes me sound like, even though I live in Japan, the earthquake and tsunami have actually not affected the area I live in even a little bit, because we're outside of the rolling blackout area. The only affect it's had is ¥30,000+ in Red Cross donations from me and various ads in various places about various companies' relief efforts).

There's a difference between sticking your head in the sand and ceasing to slam it against a wall.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:08 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


The "MSM" and cable news is terrible, but that doesn't mean you should be uninformed about what's going on. Watching Cable news just seems like a waste of time. There's a ton of repetition and I don't feel like I miss anything not watching it. There are a few political blogs in my RSS reader and I feel like if anything major happens I'll hear about it.

But I dunno, I feel like if you don't keep up with events then maybe you shouldn't vote either? How can you justify being uninformed and then voting? If all you're doing is listening to campaign rhetoric and then voting, how can you make a good decision?
posted by delmoi at 1:57 AM on April 21, 2011


When we're ignorant of the news it's because we're too sensitive and clever, when they're ignorant of the news it's because they're dumb hicks.
posted by joannemullen at 1:58 AM on April 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've been reading a lot about nationalism at the moment, and although I'm only halfway through a book by Benedict Anderson, one of his main theses seems to be that the newspaper created the modern nation-state.

That is, in the older feudal system people's loyalties and self-definitions came from their personal relationships: a peasant was acquainted with the lord of the manor, the lord knew the next higher up, etc. In places like what-is-now-Germany, there was a good chance a peasant lived in such a small kingdom that their prince literally lived down the street. But early newspapers defined a piece of physical space and reported on events only from that physical space (the 13 Colonies, Venezeula, etc), even though most of the people involved in those events had no overlap in day-to-day life. And so through newspapers people became used to imagining the community that they belonged to--most of whom they would never meet--instead of defining their community solely by the real people in their lives, and ta da! there's the nation.

That's an oversimplification of his argument of course, and his argument is not perfect to begin with, but it has made me think about news differently. In the U.S. for example, many people from different regions already live very different lives and feel very far apart from one another, and most, in fact, will probably never meet. If we stop imagining that we have some kind of common life, what in reality ties us together? We have a government of course, but all of my reading makes me think that governments and the official borders between countries are much more fragile than we Americans tend to believe.
posted by colfax at 2:14 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


"How can you justify being uninformed and then voting? If all you're doing is listening to campaign rhetoric and then voting, how can you make a good decision?"

Well, the electoral college solves part of that problem, because it means that voting for a third party is a protest or wasted vote, and you don't need to be so well informed that you can pick the best of all possible candidates, just well informed enough to know which of the top two is worst. That's an easy enough decision that you don't need news to figure it out. I know the counter-argument is generally "well, the reason we got Bush for two terms is because of ignorant voters who just voted based on campaign rhetoric", but looking at the arguments of educated voters who voted for Bush, it seems pretty clear that an ignorant person who votes for Bush will not become an informed person who votes for Gore, they'll become an informed person who votes for Bush.

And the other thing, as I mentioned, is that it really depends on the type of person you are, and how close you are to the fence. If you're a staunch liberal, but reject the idea of voting for third party candidates, then it's almost impossible that any information you gain from news is going to make you vote Republican. And vice versa. You'd have to get into "Obama declared on national news that he's going to kill all the jews and the homosexuals" levels of insane scandal to switch votes, and once you reach that level of scandal, word reaches you anyway, even if you never watch the news. Turning off the news doesn't mean turning off all incoming information from the world at large.

Now, if you're on the fence, then suddenly news knowledge becomes far, far more important, as it may actually affect your decision.

Now, when it comes down to, for example, primaries, where the decision is far more nuanced, I think you're right, which is why I only vote in national elections.
posted by Bugbread at 3:22 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Since the term "information" is being bandied about, I can't help but fall back on a definition of "information" which is "stuff that informs a decision".

If there's no decision that you can make based on what is presented, it's not information, but noise. Or it's something with a less loaded term, like "entertainment" or "trivia", but it's not information.

For example, news about floods in Pakistan can inform my decision whether or not to donate to a relief appeal: information. News about the latest political scandal can inform my decision on who to vote for: information. News about a warehouse fire or car accident: noise. Political developments in a faraway nation: probably noise. Something to do with some celebrity: definitely noise. Unexpected recipe for beef & Guinness pie: information.

Parsed through this kind of filter, I've long felt that TV news & most of what can be found in newspapers is not information, but a form of infotainment.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:58 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love love love the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, but nothing makes me quite as depressed as young and relatively well-educated people explaining, proudly no less, that it is pretty much their only source for news.
posted by modernnomad at 5:14 AM on April 21, 2011


While it's not a precise analog, let me relate a story about my brother, who is one of those parents who doesn't subscribe to cable TV for fear of his kids sitting around watching television all the time. As most of his kids are now approaching college age, I can give you some outsider observations about the results of this unscientific experiment.

-- When the kids were younger, any time they did come into contact with a television, like in a store or a pizza parlor, they'd become dazzled and transfixed, focused solely on the television feed, trying to fill the void while they could. And I mean transfixed. I recall one incident where we had to shake one of the kids to get him to snap out of it, and even then, we had to literally drag him away from the glow of the magic box.

-- While they didn't have access to a cable feed, they did have access to over-the-air transmissions, so they would watch spanish television on UHF, even though their grasp of the language was tenuous at best.

-- My brother, whose only sources of news and culture, is the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, is hilariously out of touch when it comes to popular culture, and unable to carry on a conversation over the dinner table. The kids are less out of touch, either from exposure to their friends at school, or their web surfing, but there are huge gaps in their knowledge.

-- Now that the kids are teenagers, they voice a certain level of anger over the deprivation, but teenage angst being what it is, I suspect they'd find something else to be upset about. Since the experiment started, technology has changed, they are able to seek out their entertainment how they choose. Going to his house now, the kids all stare into their individual laptop screens, watching their own self-chosen programming, and there is no interaction between them or anyone else.

Of course, my brother thinks the whole thing was pretty successful. He maintains that knowledge of popular culture is completely unimportant, and that his kids now are much better off for it.
posted by crunchland at 5:19 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


modernnomad: I was equally depressed years ago to read stats that said the same thing. I forget the exact figure, but it was a staggering percentage - maybe around 60% (?) - of Americans under 35 said that comedy shows were their primary/only source of news. This was around the time of the sabre-rattling over Iraq. At the time, it was a real "I don't want to sail with this Ship of Fools" moment.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:21 AM on April 21, 2011


News about a warehouse fire or car accident: noise.
I complain as much as the next person about car-accident coverage, but I actually did join the local bike-advocacy organization after reading one too many "car hits bike; police shrug shoulders and say that's what happens when you ride a bike" stories in the local paper.

And I guess I really hate the idea that coverage of far-away countries is "noise" unless there's some possibility that I will immediately and directly intervene. Sometimes there's value just in knowing "people do things differently in other places and my assumptions about how things work aren't universal" or "this thing that used to be true about a place isn't true anymore, and I need to update my information about that place." And I can't be the only person in the world who sometimes seeks out long-form journalism or books because I read an article in the newspaper, am intrigued or confused about it, and want to know more.

Having said that, at some point I realized that my personal news consumption wasn't healthy or useful for me, and I've tried to cut back, especially on the kind of news coverage that gives constant, not-very-informative updates on breaking situations.
posted by craichead at 5:23 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


But if I stop watching daily news programming, how will I become slowly acclimated to rightward shifts in the social contract?
posted by condour75 at 5:36 AM on April 21, 2011


longnow.org have experimented with the idea of long-term news:

http://blog.longnow.org/category/news-items-that-are-of-long-term-consequence/

Although I don't think they've quite done a good job yet.

I also feel compelled to add the obvious Thoreau quote "Read not the times, read the eternities."
posted by curious_yellow at 6:01 AM on April 21, 2011


I love love love the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, but nothing makes me quite as depressed as young and relatively well-educated people explaining, proudly no less, that it is pretty much their only source for news.

I heard this same statement at a dinner recently and I posed the question, "What do you want them to get their news from?" Nobody could really define what a healthy news diet is, or who a slate of credible, reliable sources are. I really doubt that being ingrained with the Internet as most young and relatively well-educated people are, that these sources are really their "only", and yet they are derided as being the primary. If they had said, "I get all my news from PBS News Hour" and nothing else, would you respect them more? What makes dry commentary more respectable than satirical?
posted by pashdown at 6:02 AM on April 21, 2011


I'd guess that satire loses its nuance unless one is already familiar with what is being satirised.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:05 AM on April 21, 2011


Oh, OK, the satire is not their "only" news source. Sorry.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:08 AM on April 21, 2011


Why should the press be believed given not only the below old quote, but the entire edifice built on Edward Bernays book Propaganda now called "Public Relations"?

Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues by replying:

"There is no such thing, at this date of the world's history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.

"There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone.

"The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?

"We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes."

posted by rough ashlar at 6:28 AM on April 21, 2011


If they had said, "I get all my news from PBS News Hour" and nothing else, would you respect them more? What makes dry commentary more respectable than satirical?

Dry commentary is not necessarily more respectable than satirical. Indeed, I think satire is a valuable contribution to debate, and the Daily Show ought to be applauded for the role it plays. It frequently is very, very clever and I watch daily. But, getting all your news/info from a single source is unhealthy in a democracy that (even if thinly) is premised on the idea of the informed citizen. If that source is the The Daily Show, then yes, I'd wager that's worse than if the single source is the PBS Newshour (even though, again, I love TDS). If your single source is TDS, then given the format, your news basically consists of 2, possibly 3, amusing 60 second stories, 4 nights out of 7, about the latest sheer hypocrisy/doublespeak in Washington.

But in general, learning about the world from a single source, whether it is PBS, the NYTimes, the Daily Show, or Fox, is not something that we ought to be encouraging, let alone boasting about.
posted by modernnomad at 7:10 AM on April 21, 2011


TwelveTwo: blucevalo, I dislike the calls to primordial freedom just the same. Nonetheless, I do think the news is not merely redundant beside to a social public life, but actively obscures it. A better point would be that removing yourself from the news system is not the solution, but it allows you to see clearly what that solution is. And that solution is a pint with friends and some concern about the world. The public sphere didn't disappear, the importance of your voice and the passing of news across the phone has a political effect, facts are to be checked, your friends are better filters of relevancy and political importance, news is never objective, and your very presence in a conversation has an impact on the great social project that is civilization.

Points well taken but you're preaching to the choir. I try to limit my own cable news consumption, for mostly the same reasons that others have put so well above. It depresses me, it makes me feel constantly helpless, paralyzed, and defeated, it makes me worry and despair more (which I already do enough without the intervention of news), and it habituates me to the notion that I must be addicted to and keep watching "more on this story as we follow it" when what they're following is 99.9% of the time absolutely meaningless. I can't claim that I avoid cable news altogether, especially during election season, but I am trying to limit myself.

crunchland: Of course, my brother thinks the whole thing was pretty successful. He maintains that knowledge of popular culture is completely unimportant, and that his kids now are much better off for it.

You say that your brother doesn't subscribe to cable TV and reads a couple of major papers and lets his kids browse the web. The kids interact with other kids at school. I don't understand what you are defining as the popular culture that your relatives are "hilariously" unable to be conversant about or in which they have "large gaps of knowledge," and what media they would have to consume in order to be more conversant. I must be more out of touch myself than I thought (not that I mind). The current cable news obsessions seem to be mostly the upcoming royal wedding in Britain and who's on "American Idol" and "Celebrity Apprentice." Are those important enough not to miss?
posted by blucevalo at 7:39 AM on April 21, 2011


When the anti-NPR and anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric was heating up I had to remove Poltico from my RSS reader. It did wonders for my anxiety.
I still keep up on a few issue-foced news/politics feeds, but they are a trickle compared to my news obsession from before.

Removing my focus on news from the USA has also allowed me to focus more on municipal issues.
posted by Theta States at 8:04 AM on April 21, 2011


I must be more out of touch myself than I thought (not that I mind). The current cable news obsessions seem to be mostly the upcoming royal wedding in Britain and who's on "American Idol" and "Celebrity Apprentice." Are those important enough not to miss? --- Well, you're more in touch with popular culture, in that you can actually name the shows, or know about the royal wedding. There were times where they were completely unaware of the existence of things like that. I found it hilarious, but that was only from my point of view. It was frustrating, really -- like trying to converse with space aliens, or people from a completely different culture. I didn't mean to suggest that the experiment was a failure in any way. For all I know, his kids may be way better off than he or I were, when we grew up, though we were both around college age before cable television even took off, so our media feed in our formative years consisted of only a handful of over-the-air sources.
posted by crunchland at 8:13 AM on April 21, 2011


"I heard this same statement at a dinner recently and I posed the question, "What do you want them to get their news from?" Nobody could really define what a healthy news diet is, or who a slate of credible, reliable sources are. I really doubt that being ingrained with the Internet as most young and relatively well-educated people are, that these sources are really their "only", and yet they are derided as being the primary. If they had said, "I get all my news from PBS News Hour" and nothing else, would you respect them more? What makes dry commentary more respectable than satirical?"

I can answer that question:

A healthy news diet is varied and balanced, with no over-reliance on any one source. While some sources are more credible than others, both generally and on specific topics, one should always attempt to verify with other sources the facts and analysis presented.

Generally, the more important or timely the news, the less detail and analysis is needed — for events like, say, the tree that fell on my friend's house, TV news is fine. That's actually where I heard about it, since her phone and email were disconnected.

But quick news like that, whether in blurb form from the AP or other newswires or television, should be supplemented with longer stories in newspapers and still longer stories in magazines. Newspapers of record are generally a reliable source, but even the NY Times or Washington Post have serious blindspots. Magazines tend to come with more inherent bias toward a point of view, but that only emphasizes the need for media literacy, which (in part) is learning how to detect bias and adjust your personal interpretation to account for it. Generally reliable magazine news sources include The Economist, Harper's, Foreign Policy, etc. Likewise, NPR is generally a reliable source for news analysis, with some breaking news mixed in.

Very few minor news stories are in themselves important — car crashes, etc. But the reporting done on them allows the public to ask questions like, "Is that intersection safe?" and demand accountability from public officials.

Not all news is healthy, and a lot of viewers do the equivalent of mowing down on Doritos and Mountain Dew, but that doesn't mean occasional "snacks" of pop culture aren't fun or can't give a broader or unexpected context to more staid news items.

One more thing that I'll say, which is sort of tangential, is that since I moved to LA, I understand entertainment news a lot more. For a lot of people here in LA, entertainment news and gossip matters in the sense that there's real money attached for a huge number of people. Lindsey Lohan's rehab status matters if you're working for a studio that's working with her. And because the production apparatus of TV news is the same as TV entertainment, it's cross-pollinated.

The problem is that while Access Hollywood does actually represent dollars here, the media reach of LA is incredibly disproportionate to the amount it matters to anyone else, and LA media is pretty blind to that fact, and blind to the fact that there's a disproportionate amount of national and international media situated here, and that neither the country nor the nation needs to know the gossip of LA to function.
posted by klangklangston at 9:51 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suppose this is fine for the kind of insular, self-satisfied people who can't see any reason to take an interest in events or information unless "...it is truly important to [their] profession, [their] company, [their] family or [their] community." Oh, and who are selfish and smug enough to rely on "...[their] friends, [their] mother-in-law or whomever [they] talk to or see" not being that insular and self-satisfied.
posted by Decani at 10:32 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I think of all "media," I picture in my mind an enormous library. Complaining about "the media," is like complaining that there are too many books in the library. I think what many people are really trying to express is a frustration with the organization of the books in the library, or the unfair display some may enjoy. But saying that "the media" (or "news") is stupid is to me the same as saying that "I'm not skilled enough to navigate all of this on my own. I can't manage to find the good things, and all I see is stupid things."

But this is my own fault, and complaining that the library has too many un-good books (when the library also contains the best of all human endeavor) says more about me than it does about the library. I, like most people, waste way too much time with "media" because I am, more often than I would like, mentally lazy.

There are only so many minutes in a day. You can only have so many "discretionary" thoughts in that day. You have a limited number of days. The physical reality (plasticity) is that our brains are what we think about in a way that is broadly analogous to our bodies being a product and reflection of what we eat. It's up to you what you put in your mouth and brain.

I would suggest that mental time be spent finding convenient, quality filters (like this place) so you can decide what you want to think about. And then set about finding quality food for your brain. You need not click/read everything that is presented to you!

And when it comes to making a difference in the world, you will be better able to do it if your well-educated in the areas you choose. But ultimately, like sound can't happen without motion, change in the world can't happen without motion.

TL;DR - Choose wisely and deliberately. Become well-informed. Go DO something.
posted by nickjadlowe at 11:04 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


At one point, I tried this for a while. I thought I was getting too irritated by the news and by talk radio (which I listened to on the car radio), so I mostly cut it out. One morning I got ready and went to work. I didn't turn on the radio, TV, or computer, and on the way in to work, I didn't turn on the radio. I rolled into work around 11:00 AM (as was my wont at the time). The first person I saw was a co-worker, whose first words to me were "Go home." "What?", I said. And he explained the situation to me. What day was that? September 11, 2001.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 4:55 PM on April 21, 2011


Crabby: See, big news has a way of finding you, even without radios, TVs, or computers.
posted by Bugbread at 5:21 PM on April 21, 2011


(I should point out that that was half in jest)
posted by Bugbread at 8:26 PM on April 21, 2011


While staying informed about news in general is a good thing, I can't recommend ignoring local TV news strongly enough. You'd never believe how evil and depraved your local community appears through the lens of the local news.

Weather: I go to NOAA. Almost the same information and possibly the same sources.

Oh my goodness, the NOAA forecasts are awesome, I just wish I could understand them:
THE APPROACHING WARM FRONT AND A MID LEVEL IMPULSE MOVING BY TODAY
LEAD MAINLY TO CONTINUITY IN THE FORECAST. THE POPS DROP THIS
AFTERNOON, BUT WITH (FAIRLY MODEST) MUCAPES FORECAST WE HAVE ADDED
THE POSSIBILITY (SLIGHT NORTHEAST) OF THUNDER. SPC HAS ONLY PUT US
UNDER A RISK OF GENERAL THUNDERSTORMS TODAY, AND THAT COMBINED
WITH THE FAIRLY LOW MUCAPES LED US TO NOT PUT IN ANY OMINOUS
WORDING IN THE FORECAST OR THE HWO DESPITE DECENT BULK SHEAR.
See that everyone? This afternoon, Philadelphia will be experiencing decent bulk shear. Suck it, haters!
posted by Deathalicious at 7:31 AM on April 23, 2011


Deathalicious, to understand it read it like the RZA is rapping his opening verse to The Anthem.
posted by cashman at 7:48 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


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