Math Formula

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why I Try To Avoid News - Part II

A few days ago, I outlined what made me trying to avoid news. Today, let me tell you why I stuck to that approach.

First, I think it is important to realize what makes journalists, news agencies and TV stations provide news at all. While there are of course some with the best intentions, I'm quite convinced that the majority of news is broadcasted for mainly one reason: entertainment. Consequently, you cannot expect to be purely informed about certain issues, when TV stations generate their profit out of your entertainment.

Second, have a close look at the composition of news. I'm not aware of any scientific studies on that topic, but I claim that most news are of the type: "X said Y about Z", where the source information is only the actual event Z. Technically speaking, the signal to noise ratio is quite high. Why would I care what any self-proclaimed expert thinks about a certain topic? Even more, when her today's opinion is rejected by another self-proclaimed expert the other day.

Third, I strongly sense that following mass-media draws your attention to certain events, for example, robberies in your neighborhood, suicides or plan crashes. People who follow media regularly tend to over-estimate the likelihood of such eventsNassim Nicholas Taleb refers to this perception as "ludic fallacy". The only way to escape this deception is simply avoiding news altogether.

Forth, as much as I try to filter all information I'm exposed to and to take it with a "grain of salt", and as much I would trust all journalists to do a faithful job (which I don't), there is still no way to protect me from shaping my mind in a certain direction.
Imagine reading a newspaper which reports about the great successes of a political party every day. I bet that if you keep reading that newspaper for a year, you will be more inclined to believe that this actually is a successful party, even though that is contrary to your initial beliefs.
And now think about reading a newspaper which focuses on the negative aspects of that party only. Again, I bet your perception will be totally different.
The only protective measure I can think about is avoiding this kind of news altogether.

Fifth, I wonder, what would I actually gain by following news? Does it make any difference in my daily life whether this year's rice harvest in China was a successful one? Will the supermarket around the corner stop selling beer, because the Higgs Boson was found (or, in accordance with #2 from above, because somebody said that the Higgs Boson was found).
Things that are likely to have an impact on me I will hear about sooner or later anyways, so no need to seek for them actively.

I understand that this position sounds pretty rough and ignorant. After all, you are still a human being and should care what surrounds you, right? I totally agree; but that doesn't stop me from deciding how I want to spend my time (which, according to some, is the most precious resource you have). I think you can care for others and be genuinely interested in the people around you - and still try to avoid news.


  1. Thank you for this interesting piece, you nicely summed it up. I actually wrote my BA thesis on something like "Violence on the evening news", and described there your point 1 (aka infotainment), and point 3.

    I basically agree with you at most of your points, but only if we narrow it down to TV news (and also there it depends on what kind of TV channel we are talking about, because obviously there is a difference between CNN and Fox News). I bet you too do follow news on the internet, don't you?

    I myself produce news, and I admit sometimes there is space to fill and not much to say (especially in the summer months, like the past two weeks), and then it sometimes boils down to what you described in your second point. Of course, why should you be interested in what some expert says? The thing is, sometimes even this kind of journalism can be interesting, depending on who the addressed experts are, and how relevant their opinions are. People like reading interviews, which is also a presentation of somebody's opinions most of the time. The problem is that 90 percent of the time the "experts" who are giving their opinions on news seem like nobodys.

    But I don't think you can prevent the media from shaping your mind just by refusing to watch news on TV. We are flooded by information, mostly from the internet, and that shapes us too, whether we want it or not.


  2. Thanks for your thoughts!

    Too bad we didn't bet - indeed, I don't follow news on the internet either ;-). At least, I don't seek for it actively, but you're right that I don't manage to escape it altogether.

    Is your BA thesis in English? If so, would you mind dropping my an electronic version? I'd be truly interested. Thanks!


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