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News is Entertainment that Makes Us Dumber. But It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way.

Justice A Human

News (i.e., any news on any platform from any source) is entertainment.  It is not clear and accurate information about reality (i.e., “how things are” or “how things work” in our communities, our states, our nation, and our world).

 

Why news should not be considered clear and accurate information about reality:

  • News outlets get paid for eyeballs, not to inform or enlighten.  To survive, they must attract and keep people’s attention in order to sell advertising, subscriptions or memberships.  And we humans are generally not attracted to, or kept engaged by, dry facts or data to help us understand reality.  We want to be entertained.  And the news (again, all news on all platforms from all sources) has responded accordingly by delivering stories filled with carefully selected, sensationalized pieces of information playing into the “Good vs Evil” (aka “Us vs Them”) narratives that attract and keep the attention of their customers.
  • News stories are not comprehensive.  We humans (especially those of us in the US) have created increasingly unsustainable lifestyles, where we are constantly pressed for time and short on mental energy.  When it comes to current events, we want the Cliffs’ Notes.  Strike that:  We want a bulleted summary of the Cliffs’ Notes.  And that is what the news delivers.
  • News stories use language that can mislead.  In their effort to deliver stories that attract and keep the attention of their customers, reporters and news organizations employ emotive conjugation.  For example:  If two politicians refuse to compromise, a news outlet will describe the politician from the party most affiliated with their customer base’s party as “firm”, while describing the politician from the rival party as “pig-headed”.  The two terms have the same meaning, but they create different impressions.
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To prevent news from making us dumber, we can:

  • Remember news is entertainment, and think and act accordingly.
  • Watch and read less news. (If enough people do this, news organization business and operational models will change.)
  • Use REAL whenever we watch or read news (e.g., per the “R” of REAL, we can approach information sources with curiosity and healthy skepticism, evaluating their credibility, bias, and incentives, as we use them to understand reality).
  • Get out of our echo chambers if a topic is of great interest or importance to us, and:
      • Check out primary sources of information (e.g., rather than listen to a news broadcast or read a social media post about a certain amendment in the Constitution, read the actual amendment ourselves; rather than listen to a news anchor or social media influencer talk about how our government is spending (wasting?) money, go to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) website and see for ourselves; etc.).
      • Read or watch three different news channels with admittedly different perspectives (e.g., CNBC for a Business perspective; Fox News for a Conservative Republican perspective; MSNBC for a Liberal Democrat perspective). Then use REAL to distill the merits and biases of each and come to our own conclusions.

     

    That’s REAL to me.