Avoiding the "news"

Avoiding the “news”

Despite the advent of the Internet, many people still turn daily to traditional news outlets, be it television, newspaper, or otherwise, to find out what’s going on in the world. These news companies make money by selling advertising, so the more viewers they can bring to their advertisers, the more money they make.  If people choose to watch the news, there must be some fair value they’re getting from it that’s worth putting up with the commercials. So far, so good, right?

But stepping back for a minute, we can see in general our economic system of capitalism has one major limitation. It doesn’t intrinsically promote positive, ethical behavior. If the product is not illegal, it seems that some business somewhere is trying to make money from it. Take cigarette companies as an example. Their product actually kills people, but since it’s legal, they’re still selling.

Now there’s much good to be said about a free marketplace and a free country. But the choice to make the world a better place, or simply profit from whatever product happens to make a buck, is ours to make. News companies are making the wrong choice.

It’s good to be aware of the fact that just because something is legal and perhaps widely sold by large companies, it doesn’t mean it’s good for you. The “news” is definitely one such product.

In particular, most of what’s positioned as “news” today is not actually a comprehensive, objective look at what’s going on in the world. This is because early on companies discovered what sells the most newspapers are stories about fear and chaos. Earthquakes, nuclear power plant accidents, floods, riots, war, murder and mayhem. Companies found that if someone is scared for their security or their family’s safety, they are darned well going to “stay tuned” to learn what’s going on in order to survive. So instead of the actual reality every day, the truth that 99% of the people on this planet are enjoying a good measure of comfort, safety, love and adventure, news organizations find the tragedy, and especially the danger that can make viewers afraid, and they position that as the “headline”, the TV news “lead story”.

By way of example, the recent earthquake inJapan. Here in the bay area, our local news affiliate led their coverage with a sensationalized headline “Tsunami heading toSan Francisco”. They conveniently didn’t mention that the “tsunami” was expected to be less than three feet in height, with little to no damage expected inCalifornia. Instead, they focused on trying to scare viewers into remaining glued to the television, while they racked up record viewership and subsequent ad sales. This is unethical behavior on their part, and it’s important to see it for what it is, so that you’re not consciously or subconsciously buying into the fear.

It’s true that bad things happen in the world. But it’s not good for us to be obsessed with them. Planet Earth in the year 2011 is actually a pretty wonderful place. We’ve made so much progress in health, peace, medicine, science, technology, education and otherwise that our lives are mostly good experiences. But you’d never know this from watching the nightly news. One fearful story after another, possibly with a trivial “happy” piece at the end of the broadcast.

The answer, of course, is not to watch. In particular, avoid television news entirely. As opposed to print or Internet websites, with television news you have no choice but just to sit and watch the whole thing in the order they choose. With newspaper or news websites, you can at least choose to skip stories to avoid the sensationalism and drama.

I recommend you try, for just two weeks, to not watch or read any news at all. You might think, “Hey – I have to be informed about what’s going on in the world!” But you really don’t need this kind of “information”. Avoid all news for two weeks, and take a moment to notice how less stressed and deep down, how less scared you feel.

After the two weeks, go back to the news if you want, but with a conscious awareness of what these companies are selling and why. If a tragedy happens like the earthquake in Japan, glance over an article to get the facts of what happened, do what you can about the situation – such as donate to the American Red Cross – and then stop reading. Go back to enjoying your life – your family, the sun outside, the yummy food you eat, sharing laughter with friends, and all the good stuff!

Image courtesy Roland.