How do you get your news? Do you even pay attention to the news at all?
Well, you should pay attention. No, not just so that you can engage in small talk that has a bit more substance than just talking about the weather. Pay attention to the news because this entails paying attention to the world around you, the greater community. Hopefully, paying attention to the greater community around us will in some way instill care and concern for things and events that are not directly related to the increasingly egocentric lives that many of us live today.
How can one feel the horror of the earthquake and the devastation of the tsunami that followed it in Japan, if one does not pay any attention to the news? Yes, you will probably eventually find out about the big catastrophes from those other people who read the news, but the events will not be real to you in the same way. Also, how is it possible to maintain a respectable opinion on politics and to make informed decisions about the leadership in a democracy, if one does not keep some sort of tabs on what is going on in the world.
This leads into my next topic of discussion: What is the most appropriate and helpful method for consuming this information? I want to suggest that, in general, the medium of print has some significant advantages over both the medium of radio and television. These advantages arise primarily out of the innate differences in the way each medium is consumed.
Consider the television and the radio in comparison to print media (this includes online media outlets). Both the viewer of the television and the listener of the radio are passively consuming the information whereas the reader of the newspaper or other source of print media is actively engaging with the medium. The process of digesting information through print gives the reader the opportunity to evaluate the arguments and positions of the author in a measured manner.
The fast paced nature of television and radio does not give viewers the amount of time necessary for measured evaluation or deeper reflection on the issues. Because the television or radio station is always at risk of the viewer flipping the channel to find something more interesting, they must keep the viewers attention by finding the latest controversies and scandals. Unfortunately, this means that there is much more material that is superfluous than there is material that is substantive. Because of this and other factors, television and radio are very poor mediums for any real discussion or dialogue between people of diverse and differing opinions.
Television and radio function in a way that encourages a focus on both eye-catching visuals (for television) and controversial sound clips. For the producers of such media, it is not to their advantage to present the broad spectrum of events in the world objectively. If the events do not have enough visual appeal, then they most likely will not be the focus of the news on television.
Also, visual media can be manipulated much more easily to skew the perceptions of different events. There is a reason that Glen Beck hosts a television program and doesn’t just write op-ed pieces for the Wall Street Journal. By a clever crafting of a narrative in his show, Beck gives the illusion that all of the ‘facts’ that he cites actually do come together cohesively to support whatever outrageous argument he might be making. If Beck was forced to write a peer-reviewed academic paper in a journal or even just a op-ed piece in a newspaper, some of the conclusions that he so readily jumps to in his show would become clearly laughable (if they were not already ridiculous enough).
My point is not necessarily to rip on Beck (I might do that at length in another post… it is sorta fun). Whether you are conservative, or liberal, or somewhere in between, I encourage you to form your opinions by reading print media. Wall Street Journal, New York Times; take your pick (preferably both… to get a nice wide range of opinions). By reading, you give yourself more time to consider and reflect on the issues and arguments at hand. You also will be exposed to a broad scope of events, not just the ones that fit into the 5 o’clock news hour. Then your opinions will be formed not only by what you have read, but also by your own reflection and engagement with what you have read.