What’s the news?
What’s happening in the world today? What happened yesterday? Who lived and who died? Who won and who lost? Where did all hell break loose? What’s the latest tweet from our Tweeter in Chief? What celebrity act of outrageousness did we miss when we were sleeping last night?
Tell me. TELL ME! What’s the news?
And so we walk outside to get the newspaper which lies at the end of the driveway. We open a laptop, click on a favorite news site, scan the headlines. We hit the button on the radio: “It’s 7:01 and the news is next.” We grab our smart phone off the counter and tap the news icon. We push the remote button and watch CNN or MSNBC or Fox.
What’s the news?
For many of us, that’s how our day begins, continues, and ends. With the news as a constant companion. As a hardcore news junkie these rituals are gospel truth for me, ever since I got hooked on the news as a newspaper boy in middle school. I’d arise before sun up, deliver the paper to fifty customers, then come home and read that broadsheet cover to cover. Hard news, sports, the funnies, local happenings: I could not get enough. Still cannot get enough. I subscribe to three newspapers and four magazines, online, in print; play NPR in the car constantly; pull up the news on my phone multiple times a day.
To consume the news…so we can stay informed. Be better citizens. Be aware of the world we inhabit. Satiate our curiosity. Be entertained, enlightened, and educated. But here’s a breaking story, for me, and maybe for you too. I’m exhausted by the news as of late, especially after such a news saturated, news dominated year, leading up to the election, and since then too.
It’s staggering to consider just how news addicted so many of us are in the world now. With a 24/7 news cycle, news creation never stops. News is always there for the consuming and we’re overdosing. According to the Nielsen Company, Americans now spend 10 hours, 39 minutes a day consuming media on their devices and a big chunk of that is spent on the news. We just can’t seem to stop this addiction.
And like overstuffed overeaters, after we binge on the news, we often feel depressed. Disheartened. Dispirited about the media presented state of our world. Powerless to do anything, especially about all the bad, scary news which inevitably dominates reporting. Journalists scare and provoke us for a reason: it sells more papers and garners more views. How quaint to remember that our parents and grandparents read just one daily newspaper, and then perhaps watched thirty minutes of news at day’s end. That was it.
In the 2014 book, “The News: A Users Manual”, French essayist Alain de Botton makes a radical claim: modern news consumption has become our new “god”, claiming wider allegiance and worship than traditional forms of faith. “Societies become modern…when news replaces religion as our central source of guidance and our touchstone of authority…. [News] demands that we approach [it like]…we…once [approached] faiths…to receive revelations, learn who is good and bad, fathom suffering and understand the unfolding logic of existence.”
I’d like to go to church more, I’d like to pray more, I’d like to connect more deeply to a power greater than myself, know wonder and mystery and meaning but…I can’t. I’ve got to keep up with the news. Botton’s vision is sobering. Journalists as our new priesthood. Naughty celebrities and tweeting politicians as our new saints and icons. Our devices as sacred portals through which we seek ultimate understanding.
But there is some good news, a secret cure to our news addiction that the media doesn’t want us to remember. Just as easily as we turn on the news, we can turn it off too. Turn off the ringing news notification on the phone. Turn off TV news which drones on in the background all day. Leave unopened, for just a few minutes more in the morning, the laptop. Silence the radio, or better yet, listen to some music. Walk past the newspaper on the front porch and take a long walk.
I’m not suggesting we eschew news consumption completely. We need the news in these perilous, uncertain times, to arm ourselves for the work of good citizenship. But perhaps we can be wiser, more discerning, and more disciplined in how we consume the news.
The news never stops. The news will consume us, if we are not very careful. Consumer? Consumed? I wonder how that story will turn out.