I grew up in a household where we would often get three different newspapers a day. Every Tuesday we got a copy of a semi-intellectual magazine (today it’s just trash). I was always looking forward to Tuesdays because of that. Hey, I was born 20 years before the internet was an every day cornerstone of human existence.
My father read and watched the news religiously. Both my grandfathers were the same. As for as I can tell only my father seemed to consume news to actually be informed.
I was proud of him. I have worked for a newspaper and I have interpreted for journalists from the UK, Denmark, Belgium, Estonia, Germany, France, but I have never met anyone who cared more about knowing what was happening in the world than my father.
Looking back I wish…. he had done other stuff with his time. He knew a lot, but when not applied, what is knowledge? He knew a lot about the stock market, without EVER buying a share. He knew a lot about foreign policy issues without ever capitalizing on that knowledge. Ok, so maybe I just care more about money than my father, but looking back I don’t see how it benefited him. In fact, I think it worsened his recurring bouts of depression. It’s true that the news has dumbed down a lot over the years and that most news outlets are a copy paste operation offering the exact same news 24/7, but still.
Here is what I think is wrong with the news and checking the news.
- It has no direct relevance for your life
So a bank got robbed in Grozny. Well, that is indeed grozny (which means terrible in Russian), but what does it matter to you? Kazachstan will now fund the tuition fees of ballet dansers if their parents make less than 5 potatoes a week. Great… What does it matter to you? Do you live in Kazachstan? Do you have a daughter? Do you grow potatoes? There was a car crash in a tiny village in Belgium and a 16 year old without a license was driving. Do you work in insurance? Do you have something to do with making traffic safer? Are you a grief counsellor looking for clients? What could this news possibly do for you except to be more worried about how fucking dangerous traffic is. The news is a lot of car crashes. Do you really need to open a newspaper to know that cars are a DERANGED form of transportation that is NEVER questioned? Look at the panicked reaction to Covid and look at how nonchalantly we have accepted more than a million dead people a year because of car accidents. The news just spews out patterns. Car crashes, a bankruptcy here and there. Suffering of all kinds. If it bleeds, it reads. But what does it matter to you personally? It’s just taking up brain space you could be using to actually improve your own life and that of loved ones. Even worse, maybe you are paying for this daily bombardment with irrelevance!! It’s always stupid to pay for mainstream news, because the rich, governments and corporations WANT YOU to read the news. If you are paying for it or not a whole industry is trying to get you to read news. Trust me, the mainstream news will always be accessible for free in some form. Wherever human focus goes is a profitable field.
- It’s making you a passive observer (and not a good observer)
So you read and watch stuff that others are doing. Maybe it makes you feel more connected to the world. But that’s an illusion. The people who are thriving don’t have time to read or watch the news. When you decide to consume the news and God, even worse, comment on the news via their social media profiles, and thus becoming an unpaid news worker, you have dismissed yourself to the role of bystander. Do you want to be a bystander? The mainstream news is a flimsy selection bent on getting you hooked on quick dopamine fixes. It creates the illusion you know what’s happening in the world. You don’t. Because if what’s happening is not considered to be ‘catchy’ you won’t find it in a newspaper and it will certainly not be on the mainstream news. The revolution will not be televised. It’s true. The news is being made to appeal to the majority of people and the majority of people are rather simple. Journalists do not lie, but they lie and misrepresent things by omission. Most of them are so immersed in their limited world of corporate journalism that they don’t know this about themselves. They genuinely believe that what they report on matters. Those few journalists who know how the game is played and stay active in the industry become cynics.
- It exposes you to negativity
If it bleeds, it reads. Lots of nice things happen in the world, but those aren’t news worthy. Murders are. Downfalls of celebrities are. Lawsuits are. Family dramas. Fatal car accidents. Train wrecks. Plane crashes. Wars. Disease. Robberies. Brawls. Child abuse. Drug busts. Violence. Our brains – for reasons of survival – are more heavily drawn to bad news than to good news. If you live in a small community and you will never meet more than 600 people in your entire life it would be good to know who is reckless in your community. Today it means nothing if a drunk driver hit a kid on a bike in Bulgaria. It’s just going to dampen your spirits.
- It will never teach you what you need to learn in order to thrive
Consider the source. Journalists aren’t rich. They can’t teach you shit about money. Or they wouldn’t be journalists. They are no role models for how to lead your life. They are eternally rushing from one attention drawing event to the next. Bouncing on caffeine shots. Always reacting to everything happening in the world. They hunt for juicy details and in reporting on irrelevant stuff they lose oversight. Once something is in the news it’s too late to act on it. It’s like allowing the worst cases of ADHD sufferers decide what matters.
And the health section? It just keeps milking the same topics and contradicts itself. One week red wine boosts your heart health and metabolism and the next week it raises your chances to get cancer.
The business model of the news INDUSTRY needs conflict, needs polemics, needs camps and clubs and theories and debates that can never have a conclusion. US politics is more addictive than the politics of any other country on this earth, because on the surface it seems so easy to keep the good guys and the bad guys apart. Spoiler alert: they all suck and serve the wealthy, though some have their noses even deeper up the asses of the rich than some others.
- It was selected for you. Therefore you are always being manipulated
What the news of the day is, gets decided by a very small group of people. These people often have very similar backgrounds, enjoyed the same kind of education and view the world sort of the same way. European journalists are more excited about reporting on the exciting drama, the weird, but sort of fascinating yet also ridiculous pathos of US politics than the much more boring European style politics. Journalists are people. They have preferences. When hiring new colleagues people in the media will hire people who are like them. This creates a form of group think. This is why so many newspapers give off the same vibe. Trump bad. Biden good. Kamala Harris, soo cooool. The news is made by a fairly small number of people who tend to think alike. These people are also very proud of their job position and job title. They like their job. Hell, journalists are addicted to their work. They will not risk doing anything that might make them lose their job. Therefore they will rarely report on something that is not along the lines of what has been done before. Do not expect risky experiments from mainstream journalists or opinions that go against the grain. By reading the news you are likely exposing yourself to a subtle form of ONE perspective.
- It’s repetitive
It may seem as though the news reports on many different issues, but this is just a case of seasoning. The mainstream news serves chicken every day. Sometimes with cheese sauce and something with pepper sauce and sometimes au naturel, but there is no special novelty about what they produce. This is very obvious when you follow the news from the morning to the evening. All news outlets will keep reporting on the same issues again and again. Each article will repeat the same basic facts regarding an event and will add only a mimimal amount of new info. Over a year’s time it’s just as true. The range of topics covered is actually quite limited. And all topics are seen through one fairly universal journalistic lense. If you have consumed the mainstream news intensively for a year or two you can graduate to… ignoring the mainstream news, because you already know everything they could possibly teach you that has any relevance.
- There is no such thing as objectivity or neutrality
By seemingly just reporting on facts as they happen you may easily get the impression that the news is objective. Something happens. They report. They get the names right. They get the quotes right. They get the geography right. And so on. But a lot is often left out. No media outlet can report everything that happens. A choice needs to be made. Let me tell you, that choice is NEVER objective. Also, so many facts are reported without the proper context that the end result is a loss of objectivity. If I write that Iran shot down a US drone you might think: oh, those nasty Iranians!!! But it would take a serious study of 70 years of middle eastern history and US foreign policy to understand the context of this event. A newspaper article does not provide that context. By merely reporting on events as they happen the world can be put upside down. Oh, and journalists can’t put the feet of important people to the fire too much, because then they risk losing access to these people. And interacting with these people on more or less friendly terms is essential to keeping their job…
- There is no depth to it
The news is superficial. It thrives on soundbites. Everything has to be fast. One snappy remark or ‘zinger’ during a political debate can become the dominant news item for a week. There is little room for nuance. Newspapers try to make up for this with opinion pieces. They let external ‘experts’ comment on events. This looks like the newspaper is then making a decision to show you a broader perspective. Of course, the people who contribute the opinion pieces are carefully selected. Because the news likes a good clash you will often find conflicting opinions. But about fairly trivial matters. The mainstream news does not ask big questions and the debates that rage in the mainstream news are shallow and very limited in scope.
The mainstream news also has a strong trend to on the one hand scare you ‘climate change, we are all going to die!!’ and on the other hand to boost a narrative that says that everything is getting better all the time, that humanity is slowly but surely marching towards progress. There are setbacks along the way, but the end result is that humanity overcomes everything and marches on to a brighter future. See how the apocalypse was near under Trump and how the sky is now suddenly the limit with Biden/Harris at the helm. These up and down waves are particularly adept at sucking in the human focus. We LOVE stories because of this pattern. Great movies and great novels are driven by alternations of good and bad stuff happening to identifiable main characters. The news operates the same way. In the end the news creates heroes and villains and misfortunes and disasters are followed by moments of good fortune and hope. It works like a thriller though. There are more ominous and tense moments than hopeful and relaxing ones. The news has exactly the right mix to keep you clicking for more.
- It’s clickbait
It’s produced in such a way as to get your attention. So no matter the topic at hand, no matter the relevance to you, smart people have worked very hard to try and lure you into spending your time on it. They know what they are doing, they are good at it, and they are always trying to get better at it. Better at drawing you in. The news is like junk food. It’s bad for you, but you want it.
- It’s bad for your language skills
Also stylistically the news is rather stale. Again, just like junk food. It goes down easily and doesn’t challenge you. Journalists and their avid consumers have their own linguo and style as a group. If the mainstream news is your go to source to consume language then you will surely expand your vocabulary, but the language rarely has a bark and never has a bite.
- It’s not going to make you feel better about yourself
Apart from reporting on catastrophes, young people dying of cancer and other doom scenarios the news also tends to highlight super succesful people. 12 year old kid graduates Harvard university. 8 year old makes 20 million dollars on YouTube showing his toys and how he puts on his socks. Come on, that’s bound to make you feel at least a little bit frustrated when you compare that to you own learning abilities or your own hard earned income… And the news hits you with stories like that again and again. People making more money in a year than you will ever make and they do it via something trivial. Imagine being a Slovak nurse scraping by on 800 euro and reading how a little kid became a millionaire because she started selling her own brand of ice cream. Can you blame the nurse for wondering why she is busting her ass all day saving lives?
The bad news makes you think: shit, this could happen to me or my loved ones!
And the super success stories make you go: why do I never have success like that?
It’s a formula to feel miserable over time.
- It can confuse you and make you lose sight of the essential patterns in the human world
Our world certainly has elements of randomness, but we do have an economic and political system that has a clear set of behavioral principles. Only very few people have any real power in our world. The news does not explain the bigger picture and reports on seemingly random facts, but the story of humanity has clear patterns, our present day has very firm characteristics, because some people have more power than others and those people with power have an agenda like we all do. The news will not explain that. This is also one of the reasons why the mainstream news always goes along with whatever is happening.
- The news fucks up. Regularly. Dismally.
Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi soldiers did not throw prematurely born babies on the ground in Kuwait. The west gave Saddam gas to attack Iran, but didn’t report on this. Odd, since it did report again and again that Saddam used gas against the Kurds… Vietnam did not attack the US in the bay of Ton Kin. The Palestinians do not launch outdated, largely ineffective, improvised rockets against Israel just for the fun of it. Iran did have a democratically elected government once that got toppled by the US and the UK. The war on drugs IS VERY MUCH a failure. The only reason the Democrats oppose universal healthcare is because opposing it gets them money.
I mean, the news fucks up. They misinform. Either willfully or because they simply don’t know any better. A lot of stuff is just not on their radar. And there is a whole industry dynamic in place that makes them repeat whatever the politicians they like want them to repeat. The margin for error is gigantic. The news is extremely good at some things and extremely bad at other things. The news is extremely good at detailing the legal process of bringing someone like Harvey Weinstein to trial or explaining how a plane crashed or which politician is having an extramarital affair. It SUCKS at explaining what is happening on the geopolitical level. It sucks at explaning how the economy works. It sucks at pointing out how countries and communities interact. It sucks at providing context. It sucks abominally at examining history to explain events in the present. And it fails entirely when it comes to asking the right questions. The mainstream news is a repetition machine. Once something has the veneer of a fact it just keeps repeating it as an established fact without ever seriously questioning it ever again. By having an addiction to the present moment the mainstream news ends up peddling a massive number of events to readers who almost always lack the skills to interpret those events and how they may be interrelated or why someone decided that it should matter to them. Schools do not teach this skill. It’s a hard skill to acquire and a very tricky to teach. It would probably take years and there is no direct pecuniary incentive. The vast majority of people do not have to have the faintest clue of how our world works in order to make money at their job. You can be entirely oblivious to the course of humanity and be good at your job. I don’t think rich people or governments get together in a room and say: look, it’s imperative that we keep people dumb, just smart enough to do their jobs to keep our economic system going and to keep making us rich. I don’t think it’s intentional at this point in our history. It’s just the easier road to travel and most people don’t have a real incentive or even the time and the energy to do anything about it. And for the corporate news? Their business model works more or less, so what do they care? Explaining things in depth and truly critically would simply be bad for business.
I’m telling you: there are thing you can do to be happier in life and choosing to spend your time doing something else than checking the news is one of them.
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I was wondering what you would think about it. I actually wrote it with you in mind!