Navigating the News

Breaking-NewsOne of the books I read a page from (almost) every morning is 365 Prescriptions for the Soul by Dr. Bernie S. Siegel.  Dr. Siegel is a writer and retired pediatric and general surgeon who writes and teaches about mind-body medicine and the relationship between the patient and the healing process.  I find his one page essays on living a good way to start the day, even on days when I don’t agree with his suggestions.  A few weeks ago, in an essay titled The News, he suggested that I should Never watch the news before you go to bed, after you wake up or during the day and you’ll live a longer happier life.   I’ve been thinking about his advice on and off since I read it.

My Dad read the New Haven Register cover to cover every day and watched the news every night.   I don’t ever remember if he ever said this right out (or taught me by example as he often did) but he taught me that it was important to know what was going on in the world, particularly in a democracy where we have a say in what our country does. And, he said, Read it yourself … some people read what they want to believe.  Amen, Dad.  But on the other hand, I do know that the onslaught of news from every direction drags down my spirit in a way that darkens my life.   So what is a spiritual but socially responsible person to do?  I’ve given this a lot of thought and here’s what I’ve decided to try:

(1) Avoid the Extremes – For a long time I have read a range of news sources to try to get a balanced view of the news.  For example if you looked at my bookmarks, they would include Fox News and The Huffington Post.  What I’ve found is that I rarely get a useful viewpoint from news sites with extreme positions.  Besides, they piss me off.  So, I’m dumping them.  I can get a diversity of viewpoints without hanging out on the fringes.

(2) Don’t Get News from Clickbait pages – It seems like pages that carry news from a number of sources would be a good way to get a well-rounded view of the news.  But in most cases their selection of articles is designed to maximize clicks not provide information.   You may get New photos show Russian warship Moskva before it sank, but you’ll also get Trump Supporters Explain Why They Believe the Big Lie (Really?  Is this news again?) and Dua Lipa Went Braless (now that’s news, whoever she is).  These pages end up pissing me off instead of informing me.   And wasting my time.

(3) Don’t Get News from Social Media – Social media is clickbait on steroids with no adult supervision. This includes YouTube, which I posted about on Tuesday in Not Mytube.   Read my post (Anti) Social Media for more on how Social media manipulates your reading.  Use it for amusement only!!!

(4) Find a Few Reliable Sources to Depend On – lists The Associated Press, Reuters, the BBC and The Wall Street Journal as the most unbiased news sources.   I like the Washington Post and the Washington Examiner, giving me a leftward and rightward view from credible news organizations.   The caveat is that even with my so-called reliable sources, I follow (5), (6) and (7) below.

(5) Skip the Opinions and So-called Experts –  Opinions are inherently biased and technically not news but interpretations of the news.  I like to form my own opinions, thank you.  And in this age of constant news programming, most experts are experts in name only meaning at some point in their lives they came in contact with the subject matter: college professors who study politics, former diplomats, or retired generals who used to determine military policy.   In other words, talking heads.  I choose not to listen.  Besides, with the state of journalism these days, I’ll get plenty of opinions disguised as news.

(6)  Avoid “hit pieces”:   What do I mean by hit pieces?  I mean personal attacks and articles framing political discourse in terms like Pelosi Shames Trump in House Speech (Pelosi just stated her opinion and Trump has no shame) or McCarthy slams Biden Over Masks (nobody slammed anyone and I can’t imagine that Biden cares what McCarthy says).   It is the us vs. them of todays news that sets me off, so I avoid it.

(7) Skip the predictions and prognostications – In my years as an engineer-scientist, I’ve observed that while science can predict the outcome of well-defined scientific phenomenon, as problems become more complex, the accuracy of predictions suffers.   When we add in the participation of human beings, essentially adding the almost-science of psychology to a problem, the best of predictions can fail.  I think immediately of listening to the returns of the 2016 election come in, electing a reality show huckster as president when the polls all said we would be electing our first woman president.    And many of the predictions in the news are little more than opinions of a so-called expert.  No thank you.

I will tell you, it is hard to stick to these new rules given the onslaught of modern media, but I’m trying.  How you avoid being dragged down by the news?

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One Comment on “Navigating the News”

  1. granny1947 Says:

    Excellent post.
    I agree with you whole heartedly.
    A lot of our news channels rely on sensation.
    I avoid them.
    I prefer to rely on commonsense.

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