Jan 12, 2009

Dealing with news toxins

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: American life| news coverage

One really startling consequence of the past few months’ events has been the impact of the news cycle on the global mood. While the blasts of headlines prior to September weren’t exactly uplifting, since then the ceaseless flow of gloom, doom, death and destruction has been uniquely depressing. I’ll admit I’m inclined to devote full attention to the most negative of news, and I can’t get enough until the whole story is out—constantly refreshing headlines and keeping the TV on in the background. But sometimes it feels like a drip feed of toxin. How have so many of us become news junkies who feel compelled to catch every single update?

Some time in the not-too-distant future, academics will study how the 24/7 news cycle affected this economic crisis. My guess is that they’ll find the news has been a crucial feedback system—a part of the process. By picking up on and amplifying people’s fears, it has probably accelerated the speed and depth of the recession.

Of course, you can’t blame the news for the news (the Madoff fraud case or the collapse of Lehman Brothers or ballooning budget deficits). News organizations have an obligation to report what’s happening and to file stories that get audiences’ attention. And like it or not, good news is no news, generally

One pragmatic response is to deliberately ask ourselves what topics we really need to follow, and filter our news consumption accordingly. As real estate consultant Kay Harris writes: “I do not watch the news nor read the grim headlines. … It does not serve us well to focus only on bad news. I know what we focus on grows.”

Another response is to take the opposite tack and engage with the news through citizen journalism. Rather than passively suffering the news or avoiding it, ordinary people are actively venting their feelings and engaging in debate via their blogs, Twitter and Facebook, or by posting comments on news sites.

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