I don’t watch the news. Saying that to someone will likely raise an eyebrow, especially since television is flooded with an abundance of news channels today. Growing up in northeast Ohio we had one local station that, by my count, had over a quarter of their broadcast day devoted to local news (if you’re wondering, not that much happens in Cleveland), and that was in addition to CNN and early versions of MSNBC and FOX News. It isn’t that I’m opposed to knowledge dissemination over the airways – it’s that I’m opposed to how I feel when taking in news that causes me to turn off the set. Specifically, I struggle with experiencing the wrong emotions.
First of all, let me assure you that I do know what’s going on in the world – I read the news online from a variety of sources. I think it’s a good idea to be aware of what’s happening, and one should be leery of taking just one source’s word for it. Reporters are human, and just like psychologists, they are never 100% unbiased, although they (like us) usually make a good effort to be. So what is it about print that makes it superior to me? It’s all about the emotions I feel while reading. For example, if I read the headline “First Take: London in shock after brutal machete attack“, I feel the following, in order:
- Sadness for the loss of life and the violence of man
- Motivation to try to avoid violence wherever possible in my life
- Empathy for the victim and the victim’s family
- Anger toward those who would commit such violence.
Contrast that to watching televised news. Televised news is a business, not a public service, and thus it is not in their best interests to downplay anything. Everything must be an event, a sensation, a historical moment. They place before you photogenic people who have made a career out of invoking emotional reactions in interviewees and viewers so that they will keep those viewers watching. Remember when Nancy Grace tried to make Elizabeth Smart breakdown on national TV? It was a ratings grab. When Wolf Blitzer asks an atheist if she thanks the Lord, he’s looking for a heartwarming end to a story so somewhere people will say “That Wolf guy, he cares” (In contrast, I don’t know what Nancy Grace hopes people say about her based on her actions).
So they amp up the production values, cue up the traumatic images, use the scary music, and when I watch it, I feel, in order:
- “Oh, they’re trying to scare me again. How stupid do they think I am?”
- “Is this a real news story or are they blowing something out of proportion to fill time?”
- I’m infuriated that they would manipulate tragedy for ratings
- “Oh, did someone actually get hurt? That’s a shame”
I don’t have, what I consider to be, the correct emotional response. Instead of reacting to the content, I’m reacting to the presentation and what I perceive to be manipulations of the content by the presenters. It’s no wonder that our society appears jaded and unconcerned about each other – we don’t consume news with people in mind, we consume it with networks in mind. This suits them well – we develop loyalty and religious viewing habits.
So to sum up, next time you’re watching the news, ask yourself what you’re feeling. I choose to feel for the people I’m reading about, whether that’s positive or (all too often) negative. I don’t want to feel anger against anyone but a criminal.