Stop Watching The News

Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan

In this last year I have come to truly despise the news channels. I slowly came to the realization that watching the news was toxic to me. In fact, I’m willing to state that the news has become toxic to all of us over these last few years.

I was never a big fan of the news, but I watched it from time to time. In fact, for my Junior and Senior year of high school, reading the news everyday in class was part of our course requirements. The teacher hoped that by reading the news, we would stay better informed on what was happening in the world. While undergoing this two year endeavor, my opinions towards the news declined rapidly as I continued to dive deeper into it. By the end of the two years, the only news I would read was on the economy.

If you look at it from a business standpoint, the news’ goal is to make money. From there, it’s not hard to conclude that the best way to make money is to get more people watching. To do that, they report on the stories that get them the most viewers. One thing that drives higher viewership is violence and frightening events.

The RAS

There is a scientific reason to back that claim. The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a part of our brain that handles many functions, some of which include consciousness and sleep. The RAS is responsible for regulating how alert we are towards certain stimuli around us. According to Psychology Today “The best way of stimulating the RAS is to depict frightening events.” In other words, the news gains peoples’ attention the most when reporting on tragedies.

The Media Over-Exaggerates Crime

This leads directly into the next problem I have with the news. They make relatively small, contained events appear to be happening everywhere at all times. By broadcasting news for days on end when a violent act occurs, they make it seem as though we live in a world that’s way more violent than it actually is. The Disaster Center shows that when you account for population increase, total crime is at the lowest it’s been since 1967.

The Media Perpetuates Violence

I’m a firm believer that the medias incessant reporting on violent crime has actually increased the amount of violence in the world. The Stoneman Douglass shooter said on a phone video, “when you see me on the news, you will know who I am.” Researchers have found that “media contagion” is largely responsible for the increase in mass shootings. In this same paper, researchers found “that a cross-cutting trait among many profiles of mass shooters is desire for fame.”

The News Doesn’t Solve Problems

We are all familiar with the classic newsroom debates. Whenever a controversial event occurs, media outlets will get two people from opposite sides and have them argue over it for three minutes. The amount of time the two sides have is hardly enough to make a compelling argument capable of persuading others to that point of view.

Pandering to a particular audience has become the norm in most news outlets. This leads to a further segregation between political ideologies which makes solving problems together nearly impossible. Gone are the days of unbiased reporting (not that it ever really existed) and in are the days of endless speculation and zero progress.

The Media Breeds Negativity

By constantly reading the news, I found myself angry and hate-filled. When reading about politics, I became pissed off at those on the other side of the political spectrum from me. When reading about tragic events, I became sad and angry at those responsible. Watching TV news does affect our moods, and therefore our behaviors.

In a study done by Graham Davey, it was found that “negatively valenced news broadcasts (are more) likely to make you sadder and more anxious.” As I stated earlier, the media has begun to report more on negative events than happy ones. In doing so, they are furthering anger, sadness, and a cluster of other negative emotions.

Stop Watching

For these reasons I stopped watching the news altogether. Oddly enough, I found that I don’t need the news to tell me what’s happening. My friends and family act as a filter, and only the really important information reaches me through them.

After dropping the news, I am much more happy in my life. I feel more attached to my relationships and have actually become a nicer person. Not to mention, my time for hobbies has massively increased (though that’s also because I stopped using social media).

I would highly recommend that you take a break from the news for as long as you can afford. See if it has the same effects on you that it does on me!

 

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan