Monday, October 16, 2006

Watching the news is bad for you.

The Daily Show is as substantive as the "real" news, according to a new study from Indiana University - although "neither one is particularly substantive," says the professor.

(Hat tip to Crikey's Blogwatch).

I've cut back on my intake of news. It tends to be about events, largely sensationalist and divorced from context. Even on the (Australian broadcasters) ABC and SBS, the news programs are just that many minutes out of the day that could be spent doing something more valuable. Reading a book or listening to a podcast to improve one's mind. Doing something physical (yoga, walking or whatever you prefer), or social (connecting with another human). Heck, even eating good food - at least there's a point, in that it's enjoyable. Watching news might create the illusion of being in touch with the world, but actually just draws us to our televisions or computer screens, and raises our anxieties.

But perhaps I'm being too easy on them. It's not just a lack of context and analysis. A disturbing amount much of what we hear in the media is just plain wrong - or at least omits so much as to be misleading. When you actually know a lot about a specific topic and you hear it discussed in the media, it's shocking how often they get things wrong or give a very odd interpretation. So you have to think - what about all the other topics that I don't know about? How much of that do they get wrong? Presumably they do just as badly.

Absurdistan by Eric Campbell is another condemnation of the shallow, shonky nature of journalism (though he may not have been intended it to be quite that harsh). The cost-cutting by networks and their lack of concern when their journalists are completely out of their depth, with little understanding of what they are reporting on, reminds us not to take news or current affairs stories at face value.

I still want to learn about the world, to seek knowledge, understanding, wisdom, empathy... but I don't expect to find much of these things in the popular media. So how can we find better information and analysis? Partly by being critical; partly by looking for intelligent sources that don't have an ax to grind but that do have a critical approach to their sources; partly by doing our own research. And being willing to put the effort in - don't expect to understand a major issue from a 3 minute news item.

And don't get me started on sports "news" stories...


I keep looking at the New York Times site, looking for the “edit this page” button to correct the errors, but of course, that’s impossible. -- Jimmy Wales' blog, The New York Times gets it exactly backwards

If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. - attributed to Mark Twain

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