The news therapist will see you now ….
Given my background in journalism, it may seem blasphemous for me, of all people, to advise folks to limit their news intake for mental health’s sake. Yet, as a professional news junkie, I am alarmed by the rampant incidence of news OD and its harmful effects on public health, not to mention relationships.
Over the past decade or so, the glut of what passes for “news” has turned too many educated and concerned people into habitually cynical, angry, sometimes despairing citizens.
The chief pusher is 24-hour cable news. That repetitive, incrementally changing loop gets internalized, and a mindset develops. The drumbeat of bad news and adversarial bickering can create in you a pernicious obsession.
Remember, TV is literally a subjective medium — and gorgeous babes and movie-idol dudes make it magnetic. (Would you watch Ma Kettle or Slim Pickens deliver the dire news?) Ever criticize newscasters’ faces and outfits? Comment on those past-the-shoulder hair extensions and toupees?
The flipside of this addiction is apathy, which is the most serious threat to democracy and is to be avoided. But you can stay informed and engaged just fine by taking control of your news intake.
Here’s a suggested regimen:
– Select one cable news program to watch, once a day, and realize it’s at best half-news, the rest comment or mere entertainment. Much of it is good, but as T.S. Eliot said, “Humankind cannot stand too much reality.” Said another way, there’s just too much to process.
– Watch PBS or national network news at least once a week.
– Value print news. That medium is de facto objective, which is not to say unbiased. Newspapers are objects, empowering a literate person to scan, select, digest and perhaps discern. Headlines and first few graphs are often sufficient.
For national daily news, the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal news teams usually separate the wheat from the chaff. Notice I’m not recommending their opinion pages as sources of factual information.
Magazines are still best for background, analysis and long-form reporting, and their tributary online news sites are getting better. (However, looking at screens too much is also unhealthy. But I digress. Find a healthy balance.)
– Try radio — NPR or your local station, if it still does news and not just argument for argument’s sake. The human voice itself can be calming.
– Get into local area news. It’s at least as relevant to your life as what’s happening in Washington or Moscow. You may not care to read about a church supper in Cathey’s Creek or watch local TV feature a hometown hen that walks backward? OK, fine. But appreciate the spirit of community, and notice how the local weather forecasts beat the Weather Channel’s.
Hyper-partisans will, of course, keep themselves juiced on propaganda, no help there. But common-sense folks usually shun extremes.
So, give moderation a chance. Manage your intake to suit your interests and needs. I predict you’ll become engaged despite yourself.
You’ll be well-enough informed. And you’ll have the spare energy to zoom-in when a situation merits it. Moreover, your resolve to keep putting one foot in front of the other may well be strengthened, your perspective on humanity changed for the better and your attitude made merrier.
Follow this regimen and you’ll feel better about yourself and the world around you.
Jerry Elijah Brown was a reporter and editor before becoming a journalism professor at Auburn University and retiring as dean of the University of Montana School of Journalism