Something on the News

Opening Thoughts

(Disclaimer: I can see this conversation going in several different directions. If we were to attempt to cover everything on this topic, we’d end up with a book, and, frankly, I’m not qualified to talk about any of this in such a technical way. So, let me say, my thoughts on this matter, while they represent a deep concern, are eminently nascent.)

In general, I’m depressed about the present – not recent – state of the news. Several years ago, Gore Vidal, the American essayist, in an interview with an independent news program, said, roughly, “Everybody with an IQ above room temperature is on to the con act of our media. They are obeying bigger, richer interests than informing the public — which is the last thing that corporate America has ever been interested in doing.” Well, whatever’s going on, there seems to be a lack of informing the public about matters of serious importance: Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the LRA, rumors about Iran, North Korea; Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinian land; the global economic crisis, which is, today, in Europe rather volatile; the debt crisis; unemployment, underemployment; …we could go on.

What is the name of the German Chancellor? What teen pop-star might have impregnated a woman backstage? If I weren’t in Germany right now, I might only be able to answer one of these two questions. Why? As far as I can tell, popular media outlets are looking for an immediate and emotional response from the reader rather than providing an accurate and intelligent presentation of the situation, whatever it may be. I’m not looking for pure objectivity, it doesn’t exist; but I think we should expect to have a press (etc.) that believes its readers have an IQ above room temperature—and it should treat them that way, too.

I’m frustrated by the stupid things I read on Facebook and elsewhere. But it’s not any better when one goes to a major news outlet. I’m not going to waste your time with an analysis of the major news networks, I’ll let you explore the ones that you frequent. Just ask yourself: what is the importance of this article for me, for the city, for the state, for the country, for the world? If the answer is, “Well, it’s interesting,” it’s not worth your time. If it’s an article about the economic crisis in Europe or in America or elsewhere, or any other piece of news that isn’t simply personally interesting, ask yourself, “What do I know now, specifically about (insert your own topic), that I didn’t know before?” And if your response is, e.g., “Well, I didn’t know that the leaders of two European countries stepped down in the last two weeks, because of the economic crisis,” okay, but that’s not good enough; they didn’t sufficiently inform you. Yes, now you know something that you didn’t know, but you’re not better informed, you simply know something today that you didn’t know yesterday. Now, this “knowing more today” is a good start, but it can’t be the last step; it must be the first.

This, however, is the point at which I come to my own problem: there simply isn’t enough time in one’s day-to-day life to be as well informed as one might desire.

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2 Responses to Something on the News

  1. MrsCookr says:

    JD and AH –
    Where I think I struggle most is the pull toward ensuring relevance with social and cultural trends. I never want to be more informed with the news and events happening across the world when I haven’t the slightest clue what’s happening in my backyard. That being said, I’m not as informed with world and US issues – perhaps because it’s scary – to think I’m so small, insignificant, irrelevant to what’s going on everywhere else. What suggestions do you have for someone looking for a balanced approach to ‘Worthy News’?
    Hearts and High Fives,
    RC

  2. Adam says:

    Hey Rebekah,

    You make some great points and ask a very difficult question. I wish I knew of a balanced approach, but I’m not sure it’s very easy to find. Ironically, the greatest method I’ve found for understanding what’s happening in the world today, is not through current events and the reporting thereof, but by studying history–even the history as close to us as 5 years. I’ve learned more about how to understand the world around me today from watching documentaries and reading history books, than I ever have from watching or reading any of the news sources–regardless of how objective they may be. Not to say that history isn’t biased, but it is at least less convoluted in its various versions of the story than in current events.

    For one, history repeats itself. Secondly, what has happened in the past usually carries without very lengthy ripples extending to the present e.g. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld being miffed by Bush (Sr.)’s decision to not invade Baghdad during the Gulf War could have told the story of why we went into Iraq quite well without the commentary of any pundit.

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