Is News Bad or Good for Us?
I came across an essay in The Guardian the other day that piqued my interest. The Guardian is a British newspaper that identifies itself with “social liberalism.” The essay was entitled “News Is Bad for You” and it was written by Rolf Dobelli, who is described in Wikipedia as a “Swiss novelist, thinker, entrepreneur, and student of the social sciences.”
Dobelli believes reading or watching the news everyday is bad for us. He objects primarily to the way the news is presented: in “small bites of trivial matter” which he calls “bright colored candy for the mind.” The daily news give us a distorted view of the world, he says. Take for example our concept of what constitutes risk. Because of the daily news we fear terrorism when we should fear chronic stress and obesity more.
The news inhibits thinking, says Dobelli, because thinking requires concentration, and concentration requires uninterrupted time. He also believes the news makes us passive since most news stories are about things we “cannot influence.” The news also contributes to “a pessimistic and even fatalistic world view.” Dobelli confesses he has gone without the daily news for four years now. He acknowledges, however, that he regularly reads longer journal articles. For the rest of his news he relies on his friends to tell him what is happening in the world.
The Guardian ran a response to Dobelli’s essay by their associate editor Madeleine Bunting. She admits the daily news can contribute to “mental clutter.” She also concedes that “as we become pros at skimming and multitasking, we run the risk of retaining less and less.” But that’s the fault not of the news itself but of the form in which it is ordinarily delivered—those “small bites” Dobelli refers to.
But Bunting believes to be ignorant of what is happening in the world is a dangerous thing. First, it makes our world very small. Secondly it denies us “the collective understanding that news sustains and inspires.” She believes to cut ourselves off from the news is to cut ourselves “off from life.” Bunting maintains that we have a “responsibility to know the world and the age in which (we) live.” This responsibility lies at the heart of democracy. She also reminds us that “the first casualty of totalitarianism” is always the news.
What do you think? Do you watch/read/listen to/surf the news every day? Does the news depress you? Does it ever inspire you?
Here are a few of my random thoughts.
1. Our Christian faith calls us to love one another, that is, to be concerned for others—both those within and outside of our immediate little world. I think a certain amount of awareness of the larger world is vital for our faith. At the prayers of the faithful at Mass, for example, we pray for our own needs, yes, but we also pray for the needs of our world community. These needs are often gleaned from the daily news.
2. Yes, there seem to be some things we cannot influence. But there are some things we can influence. We can influence our city hall, legislatures, and Congress. We can advocate for policies based on the innate worth of every person. And remember what St. John of the Cross said: “Where there is no love put love, and you will find love.” I may not be able to do anything directly about the violence in Nigeria, but I can be a loving and non-violent person in my daily interactions with others. I can also “influence” the world by my prayer.
2. We must remember that the news we experience does not necessarily reflect all of reality. The news media often focus on what’s wrong. That’s part of their job. The news may report that two parents abused their child. That’s terrible! But there are millions of parents raising their children with love, patience, and great self-sacrifice. That’s wonderful–but it probably won’t be in the news!
3. Knowing the news is never a substitute for living and loving.
4. Sometimes I take a “vacation” from the daily news—especially when I’m on retreat or vacation. I must admit, I find such “abstinence” refreshing.
5. I think it all comes down to moderation. Does getting the news mean more to me than fulfilling my responsibilities, interacting with people, and enjoying life?
In all of this, I recall that the word gospel means good news. With that in mind, I am concluding this reflection with a song that I feel captures the essence of the good news of the gospel. It’s called “We Believe” and it’s performed by the Newsboys (what an appropriate name!), a Christian rock group I personally like. If the regular daily news ever wears us down, maybe we have to recall the basic tenets of our Christian faith as expressed in this song:
Beautiful song! Thanks for starting my day with such a holy anthem.
Thanks for another timely reflection. One of my favorite songs also!
As a person who always watches the news, I need to take your words to heart. I do this for information as Imdo want to know what is going on in the world and in our town. Thank you for your words of wisdom…I will take them to heart.
thank you for sharing your insights. I loved the Music video as well.
Good morning, Sister Melannie,
Great topic! Like many other elements of our present culture, I find balance is key. We are blessed to be able to choose what and how much we take in, and when to turn it off.
However, with that said, I agree that news is one way to broaden our intercessory prayers to include those “strangers” who we otherwise wouldn’t know need prayer. The little girl who was the lone survivor of a plane crash comes to mind as does the family of the elderly couple who were found murdered. Not to mention those around the globe dealing with blizzards, storms, floods, volcanic eruptions, etc. Prayer creates universal harmony by gently reminding us that our God is God of hope, who reaches out to and for all of His creation.
Sister, Enjoy a bless-filled week. Joanne
Dear Sr Melanie
Thanks for your beautiful reflection on the news. I loved the way that by our prayer and daily lives we too can make a diffrence in the world.
I just loved the Newsboys, “We Believe” video too … the words, the music, the lyrics and the message delivered. Let us all share this with our friends too and make a difference.
26 Jan – Australia Day and Republic Day [India]
Wow, Melannie, what a great song….love it!
As far as the news goes, I feel it is important to keep informed for many reasons, but I would love to see more positive features..there is also so much good being done locally and globally.
For example: the Right to Life March last Thursday was barely televised..maybe a one minute segment appeared….sad.
God bless. Josita
Thank you, Melanie, for this reflection. Just this past weekend I designed a prayer on what we read in the newspaper. What needs our prayer for healing? What calls for our prayer of thanksgiving? What are the values we are invited to bring into our part of the world to make it a better place? Our intercessory prayer at liturgy, too, is often based on what is in the news.
Thanks for the song. I love it.
When I was growing up, the tv news was on before school, noon, 6 and 11. Now, it’s 24 hrs. a day. So, they often fill it with some awful, repetitive, petty items that I do not find as “news” nor do I even want in my mind.
I parse out the tv I watch – especially the news.
I stopped today after Mass and saw the peace bulletin board at St. Mary school. Now that is uplifting news. The children wrote how they promote peace. We must look for news and remember that our children will be our future.
As Father Scott Seethaler always says: with today’s technology you can get bad news 24/7. I agree we need to balance what we listen to ….I listen to the radio on the way to work…news first then turn to uplifting Christian music or preaching. From the Newsboys song: Let our faith be more than anthems!
Wow, Melanie, What a great song. I always enjoy when you end the reflection with a song.
I feel it is important part of our Christian Faith to be aware of what is happening in the world so we can act on it. However, the daily news is not always a balanced source of information. A good source of in depth journal articles I have found is the National Geographic magazine. Check it out!
Melannie, this is my first visit to your blog but I know I will be back! Like you I watch the news in moderation as I find too much can be very depressing. I also try to find inspiring stories to find a balance there. Thanks again for what I know will be a very pleasant part of my day from now on! God Bless!