Why I Do Not Read or Watch The Mainstream Media News

Since the devastation and tragedy that Katrina wreaked on New Orleans and the United States, and I’m alluding to something more than the horrible effects of the natural disaster – see national media and governmental irresponsibility – I have practiced a self-imposed media fast.

Thomas Jefferson said, “The man who never looks into a newspaper (and in today’s society, I would add television media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, etc.) is better informed than he who reads them (or watches them), inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”

Following Dr. Steven Sample’s (President of USC) example, I have stopped reading all newspapers and newsmagazines and I do not watch the national or local television news. The television part was no huge sacrifice, since I had stopped watching all TV except sports and LOST several years before. I might add that I do make an occasional exception for local weather reports. This news fast has lasted almost five years.

This fast has produced some interesting findings:

1) Much like Dr. Sample, I realized a newfound sense of freedom and autonomy. Also like Dr. Sample, “I realized that I (along with nearly everyone else in America) had become addicted to the mainstream media, and that I had given over a huge portion of my intellectual independence to a group of reporters and editors whose core values and interests were not necessarily congruent with my own.”

2) While traveling and lecturing in universities in the remote and forgotten country of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia nine years ago, I realized that the media can be completely and irrevocably corrupt. The disturbing fact that I naturally trusted most news media began to sink in. The news I read in the papers there, even the Western papers, was not at all what was actually occurring throughout the world.Why should it be much different in the U.S.?

3) I was also stunned to find out that within hours, and now with the advent of Twitter, minutes of a story appearing in the mainstream media, I was often better informed about the facts than my friends who are still addicted to reading newspapers and watching national television media outlets. I was receiving my news from people whose biases were known to me, and affinity groups and social networks who had my best interests at heart.

4) People love to tell me about the latest news. When a friend asks, “Randy, have you heard about…?” All I need say is, “No, I haven’t, please tell me about it.” My friends always jump at the chance to be the first to inform me of breaking news. The beautiful thing about this – my friends will combine all they’ve read and watched on myriad news outlets, filter it through their personal passions and prejudices (of which I am familiar) and apply it to their own good judgment to come up with what they believe to be the truest account of the incident in question. So after two or three friends provide me their rendition, it makes sense that my grasp of the breaking news is more complete and accurate than any of my colleagues or competitors.

5) I maintained my intellectual independence and did not let talking heads decide for me what was important and what I should ignore.

6) There is a strong herd instinct in the news media. Our flood in Nashville perfectly proves this point. Because the flood was not important to one news outlet, all of a sudden, it was not important to any national news outlets. I had friends from Florida call me today, that still had not heard or seen any comprehensive reporting about our flood – one of the greatest natural disasters to ever hit America. This tendency for conformity in journalism presents a real and present danger to leaders.

7) News outlets often get the facts wrong. When one truly knows the inside of a story, as we Nashvillians did last week, this fact really hits home.

8) I know now that when I read newspapers or watch CNN, Fox News, etc., I do so for entertainment purposes only.

9) After a few months of the media fast, when watching a national television news outlet in a bar while waiting for an lunch appointment to arrive, it dawned on me that I felt much like when watching a local used car pitch man scream at me. Even though the national anchor person was much more refined, the shock factor and sensationalism was eerily the same.

I realize with Mr. Jefferson that the person in 2010 who reads and watches no news media at all may in fact be better informed than the person who is addicted to the news.

One very good outcome from this terrible disaster, the Nashville 2010 flood, may be that we all have a wake-up call about the extraordinary shortcomings of our national media – and the tremendous breaking news benefits and potential of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter where real people report real facts in real-time.

18 Responses to “Why I Do Not Read or Watch The Mainstream Media News”

  1. I’m right there with you Randy, except for the “Lost” part. You’re at the mercy of the writers and directors of that weird, nonsensical show. No different than the news. Reread your #9 point. That show is just as manipulative as the media when it comes to shock value. Otherwise your points are well made. For what it’s worth, I appreciated following all the Nashville/Franklin group during the terrible flood. You were all so informative and inspirational. Our prayers are still with all.

  2. I’ve mostly practiced a news fast myself over the last several years. If I watch TV news, it is either a very rare occasion or incidental. I’ve noticed that if a television is on, it demands the attention of the entire room. No kidding, this happened to me in rural Egypt of all places. I rarely read newspapers. Can’t tell you the last time I’ve bought one. My news comes strictly from online. The Tennessean is a widget on my iGoogle, mainly for sports purposes. I occasionally but rarely hit the MSM websites AFTER someone has told me somethings happened. In short, if its not in that iGoogle widget and it’s not on Twitter and my friends haven’t told me about it, I don’t know it. And I have so much more time than I did before.
    .-= Bryan Young´s last blog ..I am an anti-bureaucrat =-.

  3. I differ with you, Randy, on this topic. While I realize that most of what I hear is subjective–any time any person reports any thing, it’s subjective–I count on the news to keep me informed, if for nothing else, so I can pray. I watch a few programs and read a few web sites. All the information we receive from other people–including historical documents, Facebook, and Twitter–comes through the filter of their own agendas and circumstances.
    .-= patriciazell´s last blog ..#41 THE DOING OF LOVING: KINDNESS =-.

    • @patriciazell, Thanks, Patricia. Well said. We can happily agree to disagree. That is the beauty of dialogue. you sharpen and challenge me, and hopefully, I do the same for you. Sincerely, thanks!

  4. Just get your news from ‘The Daily Show’ and you’ll be better off ;)

    Excellent reasons though, I feel the same.
    .-= Danny Bixby´s last blog ..Some Days I’m Just Not a Big Enough Bastard For My Job =-.

  5. As a member of the media I am neither shocked or offended. I am probably an exception to standard media as I report sports but many of the truths still apply. Sports journalist tend to look for the scoop, the dirty side of sports, or something sensational just so they can keep getting published. I reference Jason Whitlock, Kansas City Star and ESPN. Many of his stories involve his view of racial issues in sports. I also believe a lot of what is driving this is the slow death that printed media is experiencing. Just curious, what do you believe is driving the medias biases and skewed reporting of facts?

  6. Thanks for this post Randy! Being a publicist who pitches stories to media on a regular basis, I get easily frustrated when I know there is a great human interest story but they won’t pay attention because it isn’t political or sensational. The Nashville Flood is another great example of ignoring a story because it isn’t controversial, etc. For someone who doesn’t watch mainstream media, you are one of the most well-rounded individuals I read via blog & follow on Twitter.

    thanks again!
    Lori

  7. Great points…leaves me with much to think about! Mainly, how much I rely on TV! Period!

  8. I so understand this. I’m not fan of American TV, I listen/look more to BBC and of course our own Dutch TV. I’m not saying they are better not at all. But on American TV they bring it as it’s sensation. I’m not on Twitter, Facebook and don’t blog and really I don’t miss out any news. I don’t watch that much TV either. I live in a small village so when something happened there is always someone calling me or come by to tell me about it. Or I will hear it when I go grocery shopping. Even these days when it’s beautiful out there I have no intention of staying at home and watch TV. I don’t even use my cellphone for internet otherwise I would be there often and I don’t want that. But then I’m more an off-line than an on-line person. I connect better offline.
    I agree with you and disagree with you. Tell one person something and let it go through your town at the end something else comes out. So I think it’s both. I hope you understand me. If not, well so be it. Like I already said when it’s beautiful I don’t stay in, so I’m out for a ride on my bike.
    Bye bye.

  9. Hi Randy,
    I’m a member of the mainstream media who has absolutely, positively, lived and breathed everything #NashvilleFlood from those first light moments when people were still using hashtags like “splashville” to describe something we had no way of knowing would turn into a devastating, landscape-altering, 500-year event. You can read hundreds of stories and see thousands of images and videos here: http://www.tennessean.com/section/news0101/

    Many of the folks who kept up with the news on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube did so by following, favoriting , and retweeting posts to The Tennessean’s social accounts. We take social media very seriously at our shop, as we understand the many ways people consume news these days. Here’s a handy page that aggregates most of our account… We add new ones every day, so this changes fairly often: http://data.tennessean.com/Tennessean/twittessean/

    Those who pulled our content into their RSS readers may not have paid for it, but they consumed it and relied upon it nonetheless. We’re okay with that, too. In fact, here’s a page that makes it easy to find our most popular feeds, as well as sign up for email newsletters and text alerts: http://www.tennessean.com/section/digital

    We also understand our game is not the only one in town anymore, and we not only invite others to participate – we actively curate the lovely images, thoughts and art from those who make this city the kind of place that inspires a movement like #WeAreNashville. Here’s a sampling of flood-related blog posts at “OnNashville”: http://blogs.tennessean.com/blog/2010/memories-of-flood-linger-online/

    We also cultivated prayers and words of encouragement on our “Flood Wall”: http://www.tennessean.com/section/SPECIAL04107

    Perhaps most importantly, we made it easy for people to find a way get help and give help: http://data.tennessean.com/floodresource/

    That last link, by the way, is a digital representation of a special section we printed on stock paper and distributed for free in flood-ravaged parts of Middle Tennessee.

    I don’t want to turn this into a debate about paid content, but I would like to remind people that while good journalism may make its way to the consumer for “free”, it is not produced that way.
    .-= Knight Stivender´s last blog ..Comfort from my daughter’s ‘present’ box =-.

    • @Knight Stivender, Thanks so much, Knight. I must say the local television media and The Tennessean did a tremendous job during our flood. I was very proud.

      It was the national media that really failed to report the scope of the tragedy.

      I really appreciate all you guys do and especially your grasp and utilization of the power of social media.

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