Wednesday, April 26, 2006

TV Turn-Off Week, Part III: The News

My daughter reported this exchange in her 12th grade American Government class: Teacher: "You guys should read the news more." Student (amid laughter and agreement from others): "You can't read 'The News'"(!) (unstated intent: "The News" is a tv show, as in "The Six-O'Clock News" or "Fox News" or "CBS Evening News.")

Way too many Americans get all of their news from television. The main problem I see is the underlying message of all television news programs: that it is possible to learn everything you need to know about what's happening in the world in 15 minutes a day. A corollary is that paid professionals can be trusted to sift through the day's events and bring to your attention those items that are necessary for you to know.

Of course, the paid professionals are sifting through the day's news with quite another objective. Their objective is to get you to watch their show. They watch each other's content and viewer numbers and adjust their programming accordingly. The result: "If it bleeds, it leads." Plus, copious amounts of time devoted to weather and sports. All the actual news stories are reduced to sound bites. The result of all this: a person who forms his worldview from watching tv news tends to be a fearful, pessimistic individual. And not well-informed, either. I feel certain that the Americans--there are millions of them--who still believe that Saddam Hussein was somehow responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, mainly get their information from television.

Again, the passive nature of the television experience also works against it. You have the evening news, I have a newspaper. You have to sit and wait to see what they want to tell you, pause for commercials, listen to what they choose to present in the order they choose to deliver it to you. If the phone rings, you miss part of the story.

With my newspaper, I can scan the headlines, and decide for myself what I want to find out about, based on my interests and what I consider important. I can turn directly to the celebrity news, or the business section, or local news. I can read the entire story about a high school basketball game, and skip the Olympics altogether. I can read faster if I just want the general idea, or slower to get the details of a complicated story. If my daughter wants to have a conversation, I can put the paper aside until later. I can clip a story to share or file for future reference. I can read different viewpoints from columnists, op-ed writers, editors and letter-writers. In the same time it takes you to sit through one news program, I can get 100 times as much information, tailored to my specific interests.

Tune in tomorrow, when we tie together parts II and III and explain "How Television News and Commercials Overlap."


TBG said...

For a few years, the Post had an index of all the articles in the paper. Right there on page A2. I used to love to scan the index and find articles to read.

Much better that I decide what I should turn to than the editors decide, which is how it works now with the smaller, less-inclusive index. (Just like how they decide what to point me to on the wapo's home page.)

I really miss that index and was really sad when they elminated it a few years ago. I'm not sure why they did get rid of it; maybe it was just too hard to keep up with last-minute changes. (As an editorial person myself I can completely identify with that idea!)

Karen said...

I read a much larger variety of articles in the physical newspaper than in cybernewspapers--I actually turn all the pages and look at the headlines: the size of the headline is a clue to how important the editors think the story is, and I take that into consideration. In contrast, on the internet, I mostly read the "most-emailed" articles and the Sunday magazine in the New York Times, and just the magazine in the Washington Post.