Why I’m Better Informed And More Healthy Than You After 8 Years Of No MainStream Media

Regions_Bank_AustinWhen news of the Boston Marathon tragedy broke, I saw it first on Twitter. For some inane reason I felt the need to turn on our television and tune to CNN. However, my father-in-law was visting, and knowing he is a FOX News guy,  I reluctantly searched the DirecTV guide and tuned to the “fair and balanced” channel.

After an almost eight year news fast (I stopped consuming mainstream media news in 2005 after my disgust at the grandstanding and misreporting of Hurricane Katrina), I expected the reports to be disturbing, but I was not ready for reporters on both channels filling dead space with vivid and dispassionate descriptions of shrapnel, ball bearings and flying body parts. It was chilling. It was depressing. It was wrong.

As I apologized to my father-in-law and turned off the television,  I felt dirty and used, as if I had been watching porn. I suppose you could call FOX News Christian porn. Who am I to judge? In this mixed up world we live in, all of us need something to alleviate our anxiousness.

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, an occasional series, and sporadic local weather reports. This news fast has lasted almost eight 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 countries of Central Asia and Africa, I realized media can be completely and irrevocably corrupt. The news I read in the papers there, even the Western papers, were not at all what was actually occurring real-time on location. Why should it be much different in the U.S.?

3) I was also stunned to find within minutes, and now with the advent of Twitter, seconds after a news event, I was often better informed about the facts than my friends who are addicted to reading newspapers and watching national television media outlets. I receive my news from people whose biases were known to me, and affinity groups and social networks who have my best interests at heart…and who are still human.

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.” They jump at the chance to be 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 maintain my intellectual independence and do not let talking heads decide what is important for me and what I should ignore.

6) News outlets often get the facts wrong. The news becomes the news. Yesterday’s CNN misreporting is a case in point.

7) After only a few months into the media fast, when watching a national television news outlet in a bar while waiting for an lunch appointment to arrive, I felt like I was watching a local used car pitch man scream at me. Even though the national anchor person seems a little more refined, the shock factor and sensationalism are eerily the same.

Maybe no news really is…good news.

Thoughts?

15 Responses to “Why I’m Better Informed And More Healthy Than You After 8 Years Of No MainStream Media”

  1. This morning, in the wake of the events of the West, TX explosion, where a minister friend of mine lives, I turned on NBC’s Today Show. I felt disgusted by what I saw. My wife and I quit watching the news several years ago too, and while we feel so disconnected from the world, we’d rather feel that way then to stew in our own frustration over how the news covers events.
    Douglas Young´s last blog post ..The Genesis of Conflict: The Role of Personality

  2. Love this insight that challenged me Randy, thank you for sharing it. As an occasional (albeit almost daily) sound-bite consumer of Fox News I am finding I too am starting to feel that the slanting of information on all Networks (as well as mainstream television) is taking its toll on my attitude & worldview. As someone that has been to this point an across-the-board conservative/Republican, I now struggle with the extreme views on both political sides. More and more I find myself saying “How can they be okay with…” -Best!

  3. I allowed myself 20 minutes. About 19 too many. Once I learned the “What” had happened, (two explosions near the finish line at the Boston Marathon) I should have turned it off. For the next 19 minutes I let them subject me to the loop of the three videos they had and the speculation of what it could possibly be, and if that wasn’t enough let’s talk about body parts and mothers crying out for their children.

    There was a show on several years ago, October Road, I believe, one of the characters hadn’t turned off the news or been out of the house since 9/11. He just got stuck there on his couch watching the 9/11 loop and couldn’t bring himself to stop.

    I think it comes from our need to know everything, yet we are looking to people who don’t know anymore than we do, and whose job it is to make sure we don’t look elsewhere.
    annie´s last blog post ..Complaint Department

  4. Since you watch so little television, I’m wondering why you spend the money on Direct TV!

    • That is a good question. NFL Direct Ticket and ESPN would be the answers. Is there a way I can get those another way? Thanks, Kelly.

  5. We didn’t own a TV for almost two years between 2011 and 2012. About 6 months ago, we “inherited” a television from a relative…but we rarely turn it on and we certainly don’t watch the news. As you mentioned, the news is often corrupt and almost always gratuitous. Not to mention that it’s rarely “actionable.” There are far better ways to spend the 1,440 minutes of my day. ;)
    Stephanie´s last blog post ..4.09 miles for Boston

  6. I’ve not been a fan of major news outlets since the 24 hour news cycle began. Too much time on their hands to fill. When our daughter was born, we stopped watching the news altogether. You never know when “this morning, a child was killed…” or “a man was stabbed walking into…” would pop up. Even if she isn’t watching (now age 6), she could hear those types of phrases on any given news show. I am an active facebook and twitter user and, like you, I have friends who keep up and share breaking news through their networks. This “filter” is enough for me. More watching doesn’t add value or show compassion. Taking action by serving others does.
    Joy´s last blog post ..What’s your Mt. Everest?

  7. We have not had a TV since we got married, but I happened to be traveling when the news of the Boston tragedy broke. I saw PLENTY and felt exactly as you described… like I had been violated. Then I went out to eat and noticed lots of families with little ones sitting right in front of the TVs trying to get the latest news. I couldn’t help but think how those images would be seared into the memories of those children. Heartbreaking.

  8. I think I owe it all to my skateboard and my surfboard, but I never had time to watch TV; there was too much happening outside.
    Vince´s last blog post ..Social Media Reset

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