Despite the fact that I am a writer and a graduate student, which means that I read a lot, I have been watching the news for most of my life. There is a sense of comfort in sitting down in the morning with a cup of coffee in hand and watch what is happening in the world. It just seems like the natural thing to do.
Lately, I have had doubts about the practice of watching the news, though. It seems that the news production has changed dramatically over the years–and, not for the better. Yes, this is about the treatment of facts. No, it’s not that the facts do not matter. The problem is that there is very little of it on television anymore. Facts have been reduced to the minimal, while drama has been increased to the maximal amount. It seems that reality television has overtaken the news channels.
A good example is the Houston flooding. It is true that the flooding caused suffering and even death. However, the news coverage worried very little about the reality of the facts and more worried about getting the drama of rescue on footage. The fact is that, although there was a historical amount of rain coming down from the hurricane, Mother Nature did not cause most of the suffering. Most of the suffering has arrived in the form the human stupidity through the practice of populating a flood plain where the water needs to be directed in case there is too much rain. Of course, the coverage of human stupidity was minimized on television. In fact, it took several days for most broadcasting stations to even consider talking about it. Even when they admitted this fact, the all-day coverage shifted back to the drama of rescuing people. Television crews, instead of rescuing people, were busy shoving cameras into suffering people’s faces, racing for the most dramatic rescue missions. They were in competition with each other to outdo the rest of the crews in delivering the best reality show. In the midst of all this reality show, somehow, the facts became of little importance.
In his work, The Phaedrus, Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, presents a great argument between Socrates and Phaedrus. Plato proposes that the good speech requires knowledge, first and foremost. Phaedrus objects. He believes that what is believed to be knowledge by the audience is required rather than true knowledge. Socrates explains through a long speech that speaking the truth is the goal rather than manipulating the masses.
This piece of Platonic wisdom applies for news production today. Speaking the truth should be the goal. This would mean sticking to the facts rather than manipulating the masses, based on the knowledge and expectations of reality shows that bring in large audiences. The goal should be the truth, not the increasing of viewership at the cost of minimizing facts and maximizing drama.
At the end of my contemplation on the news delivery on television, I decided that it was much more valuable to actually read the news. The written material has little chance of being dramatized in the absence of reality show styled footage. The writers have to actually say something meaningful to fill up the pages. This means more facts and less drama. If a writer has nothing valuable to say, I can close the page and get on the next story of my choice. This offers me the opportunity to be in control where I can get more news and less attempted manipulation through unnecessary drama. So, after decades of watching the news, I decided to read the news on websites. I can say that it does save valuable time!
It seems that reading the news is more valuable than watching it nowadays. It offers more facts, knowledge and control. Watching the news is valuable only if one is into reality shows. However, getting out the popcorn to watch our fellow human beings go through unimaginable suffering is a very morally questionable behaviour. Thus, reading the news overall seems to offer the better and even more morally sound choice in today’s world.