7.11.11

Why Reading the News Sucks

I studied Journalism in my undergrad. Well, not journalism exactly: "Communication and the Media", which is a fancy way of saying "if you don't want to be a journalist, better start planning that Master's now." (I didn't want to be a journalist, so I studied for a Master's. This improved my chances of getting a job incredibly.)

(The usefulness of both my Master's and my Bachelor's.)

In my four and a half years as an undergraduate student, I learned to read the news daily. For some reason, our lecturers decided that as non-Journalism-but-actually-Journalism students, it was important to read newspapers and visit news websites and watch the news on TV all the time, so they asked us to do it every day. (Insane troll logic.) I didn't want to become a journalist, but I picked up the habit anyway.

I don't like discussing most news. I hate talks about politics, I find conversations about international relations rather dire and anything having to do with the economy depresses me to no end. I like reading about social care issues and I do find it necessary to be up to speed with recent developments around the world or regarding the economy, but I don't want to talk about them.

So why am I writing this post? I dunno. Probably because I think that reading the news sucks. (I won't even talk about TV, I haven't watched the news on TV in three years.) This is why:

#1. It's all subjective. (And there is no humanly possible way to make it objective.)

If the Great Flood happened tomorrow, these would be the headlines of the day after:

Daily Mail: "Britain's Membership to the EU Sinks the Country to Depths of Hell"

Daily Telegraph: "British Public Punished for the Sins of the Liberals"

Guardian: "Scientists and Normal People Still Baffled by Unnatural Flood"

Evening Standard: "Britain's Deficit Raised in the Face of Danger of Biblical Proportions"

The Sun: "Noah Accidentally Picks Gay Penguin Couple -- Species Now Doomed to Extinction"

(Of course, it wouldn't matter in any way 'cause we would all be dead.)

I have this theory: if it ever became illegal to lace articles with personal opinions or political beliefs, then newspapers would become about three pages thick. In fact, I believe we shouldn't even call them newspapers as they are right now: they should be called opinionspapers, and the news on TV should be called the views.

("Welcome to Fox Views, home of the rich white males.
If you're... ahem... coloured, please switch to a different channel.")

It's natural to promote one view; there are interests in line, and it's a human tendency to take sides. We don't read newspapers to be informed; we read them to reinforce our opinion that the world is exactly as we think it is. The problem is that we label those opinions "truth". One (often uninformed) asshole decides that something he thought is right, and he turns it into a fact, just by writing an article about it.

So what do you do when you really want to hear the truth? The best you can do is read all available coverage of the same event and hope to make some sense of it, or achieve a semblance of objective truth.

(In other words, good luck.)

#2. It's fucking depressing.

The quote from this A Softer World strip used to be my email signature until a while ago. (More specifically, until I realised that email signatures aren't cool.)


This is frighteningly spot-on. When was the last time you read an article about a happy thing that lasted more than a page or, hell, half a page? Struggling to remember? That's because news are all doom and gloom. Regardless of whether it's about the shitty economy, some war and our questionable participation in it or some freaky death in a small town in Leicestershire, picking up a newspaper is like looking for reasons to book an appointment with a psychiatrist.

And again, we've got no one to blame but human nature. It's human nature to want to read about doom and gloom, about death and pain and trouble. What's more likely to grab your attention: "Happily Married Couple Has Their First Daughter" or "23-year-old Student Found Brutally Mutilated"? Unless you're Brangelina, tough shit my dear couple. The brutally mutilated student wins.

(Well, sort of.)

Occasionally, there will be an opinions article that will make you smile, some extraordinary story about a puppy that miraculously survived certain death or an old couple that died a Notebook death or a well-deserved court case against the Vatican. Before you can even say "yay", however, your heart will be blackened again by news like the new anti-immigration law in Alabama or the latest gay teen suicide or that people would willingly tattoo Twilight characters on their backs. And you'd be back to square one.

(In a world populated by people like this.)

#3. It makes you mad, but there's nothing you can do about it.

This is in connection to #2. How many times have you read the news and thought, "argh, this makes me so sad/angry!"? How many times have you thought, "something must be done!"? How many times have you actually come up with what that something was? And how many of those times was it possible for you to help in doing that something?


The news are not looking for volunteers. There isn't a section under each article that says, "tick that box if you want to help change or improve this and an agent will visit you at your convenience to let you know how." The news only seek to inform you (selectively). The emotions that you get out of this interaction are your problem. You can feel as angry or depressed or annoyed as you like, just as long as you buy the same newspaper tomorrow.

Because, guess what? Tomorrow the world will be as shitty as it was today. And you will be able to do nothing about it. Again.

(Unless you give your money to these guys, apparently.)

#4. News online have comment sections.

This is a new-age thing. Many newspaper websites such as The Guardian or The Daily Telegraph often include the option of commenting on views articles. This, unfortunately, leads to a terrible situation where, if you agree with the author, you get depressed by the amount of stupid people who violently disagree in the comment section, whereas if you disagree, you get depressed by the amount of stupid people who agree. Even if you are indifferent towards the subject, you don't escape: there are always comments that will drive you insane with their sheer stupidity, even if they're about a subject you don't care about.

Basically, people suck and comment sections make that abundantly clear every day.

(Which is why I wasn't surprised this was the first result
when I googled "newspaper comment section".)

So what do you do? Do you not read the news any more? Do you hide yourself in a bubble and never get out?

(We already know how this would end.)

There's nothing you can do, except accept the fact that reading the news sucks, and not reading the news is not an option. It's just one of the many things in life you've got to deal with.

My suggestion?


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