In Part IIIA of this series, you learned about healthy news quantity. Now let’s make the substance or quality of your news healthier.
Reduce Emotional Stimulation
Do you think the reporters on PBS, BBC and BBCA are dull or boring? Well guess what? That’s what professional, ethical news reporting looks like. A while back, I posted a series on how to recognize proper reporting standards. I suggest you read or reread these posts:
I described how a reporter apologized for having shown his emotions when witnessing the Hindenburg passenger airship burst into flames, killing all on board. He apologized because he knew that his proper duty was to deliver information without showing emotion or suggesting opinions.
The more a news source engages your emotions–especially fear, anger and hate–the more likely that it’s not objective reporting and it’s not healthy for you.
Yellow and Red Alerts
Anyone will feel emotions if they see a riot or people on the roofs of flooded houses. But if you feel emotions when taking in news unrelated to disasters or emergencies, pause and ask yourself how much emotion comes from the images and how much from the tone and/or the words of the journalist. If it’s coming from the journalist, that’s a bad sign, a yellow alert.
If the journalists or the organization they work for make overt attempts to convince you that they are the fair ones, and that other news outlets are deceiving you, that’s a red alert.
What if two school boys, Joe and Mike, get into a tussle at recess. A teacher stops them and says, “You’re both getting detention.” Joe, “Mike started it.” Mike, “No, I was just defending myself.” Joe, “Mike’s a liar. I always tell the truth.”
Suppose the teacher replies, “Oh, thank you, Joe, for explaining that. You go on and play. Mike you get detention.” What would you think of that teacher? That’s what you should think of the news outlet that feels they have to work at convincing you that they are truthful.
More Red Alerts
These pertain to news about or interviews with politicians, appointed government personnel, and candidates, as opposed to, for example, actors or other entertainers.
- Are the reporter’s criticisms of some politicians and office holders trivial, for example: “He’s too old” “Her clothes are too loud”? That’s a sign that they want to prejudice you against that person, but can’t come up with anything substantial to criticize.
- Does an interviewer never challenge certain individuals but constantly challenge others?
- Too many leading, “yes” or “no”, questions in interviews–red alert. Responsible journalist ask open, “How…?” “Why…?” “What about…?”, questions that require the interview subject to elaborate. The worst leading question I ever heard suggested the answer, “Don’t you think (competing TV channel) is prejudiced against you because…?
The Role of Sensory Stimulation
Even when reporters remain calm and objective, TV news, by its very nature, engages you emotionally because it stimulates more of your senses. You see video. You hear audio, not only human voices, but things like sirens or fierce winds.
Neurosurgeon-turned-author Dr. Bernard Patten, in his upcoming book, Making Mental Might, discourages TV viewing. In fact, he reports that our brains are actually less active while watching TV than while sleeping. So not only does TV news stimulate the sensory and emotional parts of our brains, rather than the thinking parts. TV actually turns down the thinking brain.
Why and How to Read, Rather than Watch—Efficiently
If you learn (absorb information) well by reading (not everyone does), that’s the best way to quiet emotions and engage the rational, reasoning, thinking part of your brain. After a days work, that cushy sofa looks so inviting, and it’s so easy to just flop and switch on the TV news. But you can be just as comfortable on the sofa with a newspaper.
As for TV, it only takes a tiny bit of time to find the same report you might watch on TV (or online) in print. Simply go to the program on the news source’s website. Don’t start the video playing, or pause if it started automatically. Scroll down to read a text version. If you don’t find text after the video, look around the top and sides of the item for a “Transcript” button.
If you don’t read well, can’t find a text version of a program, or for any other reason, feel compelled to watch TV news, you can still reduce sensory stimulation. Turn down the volume. If you learn well by listening, shut your eyes or put on a sleep mask.
Or, choose those calm, unemotional (that is, ethical and professional) reporters on PBS, BBC (online) or BBCA (cable).
On the other hand, if the news you want only appears in print, but you don’t learn well by reading, it might help to read it aloud or pronounce the words in your head.
Still, there may be something to be said for a limited amount of TV news viewing. If I had simply read about the riot at the US Capitol, I would not have grasped the mood and atmosphere of the mob, and thus, the seriousness and full implications of the situation had I not seen a limited amount of video.
Consider the Source
Twenty-four hour news cable channels have to fill every hour with something related to news. They fill lots of time with things other than straight news reports–opinion pieces, news commentary, interviews and talk shows.
The major networks, CBS, NBC, ABC, and PBS carry many other types of programs. They can only spend a small percentage of air time on news, so they are more likely to stick to actual reporting.
Additionally, major networks want viewers who watch their news to stay with them for other types of programs. Therefore, they tend to avoid extremism. You will sometimes hear them show your favorite politician in a good light, and you will sometimes hear them show that politician’s warts. That’s a good sign.
If they never report anything negative about your pets, or simply don’t report their foibles at all, and if they never report anything positive about people you have been taught to fear and hate, that is a very big, very bad red alert. This applies to print media as well.
Another “source factor” is that commercial, for-profit, companies have to think about income, for themselves and their advertisers. Unfortunately, “news” that gears up peoples’ emotions has become popular and pulls in the money. The non-commercial networks, PBS and BBC, don’t have to work so hard at pulling in money because they are funded by other means. They can afford to keep their reporters calm and professional.
Axios provides succinct news on a user friendly website and via newsletters. Check out their Bill or Rights, a great example of good reporting standards.
My primary source of national news is The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. They focus on resources for journalists including news others might like to write about. They offer courses in ethics and fact-finding.
There’s plenty of news on their homepage. They also have e-newsletters. I subscribe to three.
Tom Jones’ Poynter Report is primarily directed toward journalists. I can scroll past passages about the news industry if I’m not interested. When there is major news, The Poynter Report summarizes how various other news outlets are covering it. I learn a lot very efficiently. To subscribe, go here.
Angie Holan’s Politifact newsletter comes from a Pulitzer Prize winning arm of Poynter. Holan doesn’t just rate things true or false. Ratings range from true, mostly true… to pants-on-fire. Plus, she always backs up the rating with explanation. Subscribe here.
In his Covering COVID19 newsletter, Al Tompkins reports not only on the disease itself, but also on ramifications, such as effects on various industries. Subscribe here.
Our local CBS affiliate, KHOU, has a feature called “Verify,” which fact checks rumors. You can read it online no matter where you live. Click “Verify” in the menu at the top of their home page.
I urge you all to begin trying the above tips to make your news consumption healthier. Please report the results to me. This can help me improve all the advice I give.
As always, please forward this to others who might be interested.
See you next time!
You’re right on the money with this, Margaret! I avoid politics on the internet; I look for sports, and even then I scroll past the articles that are constantly pushing social justice issues into sports…it’s not that I don’t care…I do care, but I am there to find out scores, schedules, trades and predictions…I have my social justice conscience in place and it’s organized. I’ve been avoiding news programs on TV; I know what time the sports and weather segments come on and I’ve been turning the TV on at those times. Almost all of the news, particularly the major network news is slanted and editorialized until there is really nothing for me to learn by watching. Thank you for the useful links. I will check them out! JB
I think you will like Axios and Poynter Institute.