Should we read the news?

Old-school journalist

Old-school journalist

In ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions’, Rolf Dobelli argues that we should not watch the news. I think there is truth in the points he makes about news (as in TV and newspaper news) being irrelevant, misleading and having little explanatory power. My last post about the BBC News at 10 looked at these limitations.

Dobelli also talks about passive news absorption as something that wastes people’s time and kills their creativity. And he cites studies showing how the brain of a news junkie undergoes structural change as a result of their addiction, leaving them unable to concentrate for longer periods. But there is a problem with cutting yourself off from the news…

I believe citizens have to aspire to delivering their part of the social contract. We have given up some of our freedoms and allowed ourselves to be ruled by governments and other such organisations in exchange for the protection of our remaining freedoms and rights (as opposed to mob rule in some dusty wasteland). But we know the power we vest in the people running these organisations has a tendency to corrupt them, and so we each have to try and take on a responsibility to fight the corruption and inequity when it appears. No one else will do this for us.

To fight corruption and inequity we need to know that the corruption and inequity exists. We need to know who else is fighting it – and we need to how we can help as individuals. Quality news reporting is part of this information. Poor quality news reporting is part of the disinformation that prevents useful citizen actions and is therefore also a target.

Dobelli says “Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth.” But investigative journalists are an endangered species within the mainstream news outlets as a result of the commercialisation of the media over the last few decades. As Nick Davies reports in ‘Flat Earth News’, 80% of news stories in the ‘quality’ papers and TV news programmes comes from wire agencies such as the Press Association and from fundamentally biased public relation sources. Papers do not spend money on expensive things like investigative journalism as that would cut into profits.

So we need to add “reporting the news” to the list of responsibilities which citizens should aspire to as part of the social contract! Fortunately, many bloggers and tweeters have paved the way (see my recommended sites list for a few examples). The lesson from Dobelli is to make sure we don’t just absorb all this “alternative” news information. Read it. Use it. Get involved.

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2 comments

  1. annedeloremusing

    I think you have made very valid points here …I try to avoid the ‘news’ due to it being so inflammatory, biased, sensationalist and irresponsible (etc.etc.etc.) and the vast majority of it is sheen, superficial and very little fact (all I hear is ‘according to one source’…who is this source, because I could be ‘a source’ and say anything)

    I also believe that I (and everyone) has a social responsible to stay alert and analyse the information we are fed every day…one such program could have been Question Time – it had so much potential – but alas, this has fallen into superficiality and distraction.

    I think Investigative journalism had a brilliant opportunity to erode this and get to the heart of matters but changing laws (in the UK) and corporate demonising of these pillars of truth, created IJ’s as a scapegoat for all the societal wrongs instead of the banal corporate media machine, posing as IJ’s.

    It has now fallen to, as you state, bloggers and tweeters to be this era’s IJ’s. Its up to the people to switch off the brainwashing and switch on their compassion and courage and spread the message of truth via these social media machines before they are restricted too through changing laws to silence and control.

    What I don’t agree with is that there has been an upholding of a contract between the people and the Government….this, if anything, is something the Government has not done and the results of which can be seen trickling down through society.

    Thanks for the interesting post 🙂

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