The next year or so, we’ll be exposed to a media circus that may be more distracting than ever before. I ask myself, “Will I be drawn into it, or will I try to ignore it?” A better question is, “Can I be a more mindful news consumer?”
Between corporations hawking merchandise and people pulling political publicity stunts, it takes a lot of mindfulness not to get caught up in it. Even though I’ve spent much of my life as a media worker, it’s easy to find myself getting distracted by news and media temptations. I chose today’s topic as a way to remind myself and you how to remain centered and sane in regards to our news consumption.
Management, at the radio station I worked, insisted that we maintain our reputation as the top ranked news station in the vicinity. We needed to keep our listeners entranced with news content. Several times, each workday, I needed to skim the latest local and regional news stories and select the few that seemed to be the most attention-getting. During the afternoons and weekends, we included some national “headlines” on the half-hours. A very brief summary cleared the newswire each hour. It was written, edited, and arranged by the Associated Press national bureau. Also, on the half-hours, we included a state headline summary that was released a few times each day from the AP’s state office in Omaha.
Despite the requirement that the news should be urgent and attention grabbing, basically, each newscast boiled down to guns, disasters, and political shenanigans. Human interest stories or “good news” were sometimes used, mostly as “filler” at the end of a newscast or as weekend “featurettes”. The good news was an effort to appease the segment of the audience who clammored for less “bad” news.
By the end of most work days, I might remember a couple of the major news events; but I was so burned out from the negativity, that I just didn’t care. I needed to go home and recharge for the next day’s barrage of mind-numbing news content.
Thankfully, much of my job involved public affairs. This consisted of providing airtime for charity and other non-profit organizations. This was doubly rewarding, because the audience loved to hear this information, and I honestly enjoyed interviewing the indivduals involved in the not for profit segment of society. In my mind, this was important journalism. I look back with fondness at my tenure as Public Affairs Director.
Now that I’ve been downsized from the business, I very rarely listen to any radio stations anymore, nor do I bother to watch television. I simply don’t have time for either. I’m too busy living my life. That doesn’t mean I don’t consume news. Now, I obtain most of it from various Web sources.
I noticed that it’s just as easy, if not more easy to get sidetracked from life and become engrossed in the news. How can we be better balanced news consumers? How can we wean ourselves off of junk news and take in what is actually beneficial to us?
First of all, it’s important to remain grounded in the reality that most of the world is working well. People are living their lives, raising families, working when they can, and pretty much getting along. The vast majority of us are not politicians, crooks, nor terrorists. Although it’s healthy to remain vigilant, we really don’t need to stress out over what the media deems fit to tell us.
Second, carefully examine the news sources you prefer to watch and hear. Do your sources merely reinforce your opinions and point of view? Sometimes it helps to be open to sources that you believe are unsupportive of your mindset. This practice probably will not change your opinion, but it will help you better understand how other people think and live. Doing this encourages more sympathy and compassion towards your fellow humans. If we experience more compassion, we automatically become happier and less anxious.
Third, as we scrutinize the various news sources, take notice of those that present progressive, constructive, more honest programs and stories. Some networks and websites present more news about positive events and helpful accomplishments of people and groups. We soon notice that some of these sources don’t dwell upon politics, religion, crime and natural disasters so much as they call attention to people helping people.
Fourth, be sure to limit the amount of time spent with broadcast and web media. The more time we spend with radio, teevee, and the Internet, the more chances we have of getting caught up in mindless newscasts and blathering commentators. More time with the media, means less time to step back and live our own lives.
Fifth, consciously cultivate a more inclusive curiosity about many topics. Intentionally seek out and become genuinely aware of the state of mind you experience when consuming media. Does your pulse rate increase in anger as you listen to some news reader warn you about some fearful event? Fear is the number one technique that media uses to persuade citizens. Likewise, appeals to pleasure are very effective pursuaders, too. Is the news source attempting to appeal to your fears and preferences? If we’re fully mindful, we know our own proclivities and how we feed them. Mindful consumption means we’re aware of what we do with what we learn.
I like to compare media consumption with food consumption. Mindless consumption causes unhealthy digestion. It is easy to automatically consume chips and sweets if you have them nearby while watching a television program or sporting event. If we do this habitually, we can become overweight and sluggish. Mindless media consumption leaves our minds overloaded, and distracted. We understand that we need to decrease the amount of junk food in our diets. We also need to understand the necessity of decreasing the amount of junk information we feed our heads.
Remember, we are being enticed by an industry that must recruit consumers for their advertisers. We are not the beneficiaries of the media, we are the product. We are the prospective consumers of the advertisers’ goods and services.
We are the prospective followers of political and religious purvayors. Keep this fact in mind before you surrender your attention to the media, in all of its forms.