Wednesday, November 28, 2007

11-28-07: Negative News

I haven’t done much reading on this, so it’s pretty much just speculation. It’s amazing to me just how negative the news is. It’s constant murders and accidents and corruption scandals and court cases and product recalls. You sometimes will see something nice pop up, but not nearly as frequently as murder and mayhem.

It’s not like this is anything new. News has been like this since I can remember, and long before that. One could point out the obvious that life is normally boring and most people aren’t murders or thieves, so when a story comes out about a murder or a theft, it’s new, so put it on the news. But murder isn’t new, either, and it’s frustrating to constantly see the same sort of bad news on TV.

The news is meant to inform the viewer about the goings on in today’s society. One would hope this would be a fair and balanced report of the daily grind. It’s not going to be all about death and injury, as important things do happen every day in business and sports. Those are things people really care about. That’s not my concern. My worry is that all the filler material that news agencies use to finish up their 60 minute broadcast is all negative news meant to scare people. Is that truly how society is? The very news one broadcasts is subjective, so it would be easy to say “Well, it’s there to promote some one’s agenda.”

Everything is there to promote an agenda; otherwise human thought wouldn’t produce anything. If I wanted to have a perfectly balanced news broadcast, that would be my agenda. If I wanted to have a right wing or a left wing broadcast, that would be my agenda. Pointing out an agenda is pointless, since bad news isn’t exclusive to any particular political philosophy.

I think it’s just human nature. People want to hear bad news so that they feel better about themselves. It’s also why people also need good news, since that gives them hope and inspiration. You could easily exist with just good news. You’d probably get a little bored of it, but I don’t think it would kill you (well, unless you became too naïve to think you’d live after running in front of a bus or something like that). Bad news can kill you. You’d worry yourself sick. But, if you hear a little bad news every day, you’d at least feel better knowing that the bad news didn’t affect you directly. It might hurt you in the long run, like with the current housing crisis, but if you’re in the right situation now, you won’t feel anything.

So how does this fit in to the programming of major news organizations? Simple: they’re not idiots. They know what people want to hear. They know what people are afraid of. So, that’s how they choose their topic of the week. I was watching something on TV at lunch the other day, and realized the following rule: something is only as harmful as the public’s prior knowledge of its existence. Look at that staph infection scare several weeks ago. Do you see that in the news? Of course not, because once people realized it’s a common thing to have, they stopped worrying about it. This seems to happen too frequently. A news organization, desperate for something new, will manipulate the perception of a story to blow it way out of proportion. Those stories tend to always come right after a commercial break. My mentality is: if I’m really going to die, they probably won’t wait until the Geico commercial is over to tell me.

One thing I’ve learned from watching the news in 10 or 15 minute bursts is that you can easily fit all of the important facts of an average 60-minute broadcast into a segment about 5 to 10 minutes in length. If you cut out all the commercials, which account for about 20 minutes, or 1/3 of the broadcast, and the useless transitions, which I would guess take about 5 or 6 minutes depending on how much bullshitting your favorite broadcasters do, and the filler stories about some guy whose car was broken into and his pet armadillo was stolen, and the “expert analysis” given by people who for some reason no longer work in a particular industry but claim to be experts, you’d probably cut the broadcast down to its bare essentials: the weather, business news, and sports scores. That would be a hell of a broadcast. How often do you turn on the TV just to see the weather or the score of last night’s game? I’d bet it’s more often than when you want to see Jane Fonda, Political Advocate, talk about the dangers of war and how it has everything to do with the Clean Air Act.

If you are interested in such a broadcast, check out the following:

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