I opened news.google just to see what’s going on in the world and I read the following headlines:
“Man accused of breaking into house, following woman onto the roof is charged …”
“Suspect in pilfered poultry case nabbed”
“Four dead, dozen injured in college bus crash in Oklahoma”
There were several more, but these three caught my eye. I wasn’t interested in clicking on the articles, but rather I puzzled over the fact that these pieces of ‘news’ were considered news at all. Then I asked myself, “What is the point of sharing news?” Not just the news associated with the above headlines, but any news. Why is it important that we have news at all? It sounds silly like asking why we need music or why we need Big Mouth Billy Bass. But even though these questions sound silly, they’re still worth asking. What if one of these things does us more harm than good? And what if we could prove it? Isn’t that worth looking into? So, here are the answers to my silly question about the purpose of the news:
1. To share information that helps other people
2. To keep people up to date on the ongoings of they’re elected officials and laws.
3. To spread ideas that could better humanity.
4. To warn people of potential danger.
I can’t think of any other reason. If you can, please tell me. I wanna know. But since this is all I got, I’m gonna break down the list.
1. If the news shares information that helps people, then it’s a positive thing and we should keep it. The 405 is backed up for miles. That’s useful information. Weather warnings, school closings, new good restaurants, highlight parts of local entertainment like upcoming concerts, comedy club info, street performers, etc. Stuff like this is a great thing. My mom has found out about many useful things from the news like FitBit, some vacation spots she’s been too, etc. If the news does this, we keep it.
2. Elected officials are essentially our de facto employees. They don’t act like it sometimes, but as citizens, we’re their boss in an essential way. And depending on the election cycle for the position, we can fire you without cause every so many years. And in between those elections, we can fire you for cause such as breaking the law or completely going against your constituent’s wishes. We need to know what they’re up to. The news can tell us this. In addition the news can tell us about pieces of legislation that we need to know about such as tax reform, stamp price increases, and the law on healthcare for examples. It’s a good thing for the news to tell us this stuff.
3. Some ideas can really help humanity and should ‘go viral’ to get the exposure they deserve. Vietnam was a very controversial issue and we needed the news back then to tell people about what was happening and why. Right now the news is filled with people wanting the Washington Redskins to change their name. The fact that it’s news means it could cause the name to actually change. In this way news helps to spread an idea for the betterment of man and actually causes change. People’s lives have often been bettered by the news.
4. There are dangers out there and the news can warn you of them. “If you see a bald man in his thirties with a Bugs Bunny tattoo on his neck, call the authorities. He’s a murderer at large.” That’s a good thing to know about. A tornado is forming just east of the city. Trans fats are linked with heart disease. Tyson chicken breasts have been exposed to salmonella and you should throw away any Tyson chicken patties you may have in your freezer.
So, those are the reasons I can see to keep the news. But unless I’m missing something, there are a lot of news stories that don’t seem to better humanity at all. In other words, they don’t fall into one of these categories and I think could be made available to the public without calling it ‘news.’ And I’ll explain why I think it’s important.
If I live in California and there’s a bus crash in Missouri, I don’t see how it’s doing anyone any good to put that on the news. Maybe if it was a bus crash in my city it would help me know. But even then, I’m not sure it would. The only way I can see it as good to know is if the friends and family of the victims were in need of something and then it could be a news story as a call to action to help other people. But without that, what’s the point of telling the story?
Or if a peeping tom gets arrested and convicted, I don’t need to know about it unless the accused was doing this in my neighborhood. In that case, it would help me feel safe. But if it happened elsewhere, how is it helping my life to know that information? Why put it in the news?
I think the news does it’s job incorrectly. Instead of telling us stories that have no real benefit, just tell us information that will do us some good. Don’t tell us about all the murderers and fires and kidnappings unless it will absolutely benefit us to know that information? Will telling us the story help us to be safer or happier? Will it help someone else? Will it let us know how to help others? If all the answers are ‘no,’ then stop telling us. These stories depress people.
I don’t know this scientifically, but it is my assumption that watching news stories about awful things all the time lead us to believe that the world is a more dangerous place than it is. If we are reminded to be afraid, because the bad things that happened to others could happen to us then we likely fear more than we would otherwise. And fear is a useful tool to help us in decisions, but it’s not a good constant state. Just like sprinting at full force is not able to be sustained by even the fastest runners, we should all not be feeling heightened levels of fear on a regular basis.
How about we do this instead? Instead of filling the nightly news with murder, rape, kidnappings, and wild fires, why don’t we fill the news with calls to action (like highlighting a homeless shelter that is in desperate need of volunteers), thought-provoking discussion (like John Oliver does when he explains his stance and research on things like pay day loans), stories of hope (like a one legged man who successfully ran a marathon), weather, sports, traffic, updates on the voting records of city council people, senators, & governors, and upcoming parades, street closings, and new hot dog stands.
“But what about the people who died in the bus, Rich? Shouldn’t we know about that?”
I’m glad you brought this up. I think the murders, car wrecks, and the like should be made as public record. But not necessarily pushed to be seen. We make easily accessible online and paper archives of stories like these that we can seek out. That way if we wanna see if a potentially new neighborhood is safe, we can see the crime rate. Or if we are curios about the status of an accused child molester, we could find the story somewhere in the archives. But the archives are not on the news. They’re simply recorded and made available. That way, we have access to information, but we don’t have to be practically forced to be fed negative unhelpful story after another just to hear the part of the broadcast that will actually help us.
Your thoughts? Disagreements?