In this article we discuss how people all around the world have become terrorised by a 24-hour cycle of ‘breaking news’. We will also explore what we can do to combat this propaganda driven charade of human existence.
Prior to the advent of 24-hour cable news networks, social media, or the internet of any kind, we relied on newspapers and the nightly news, televised on one of three networks, to inform us about what was going on in the world.
There was a certain amount of distance between what was actually happening in the world, and our personal lives.
The events of the day might have had a relevant impact on people’s lives, but it wasn’t so eminent or fraught with such immediate danger.
Back then newspaper editors would tell reporters that….
“The headline and a picture should tell the reader everything they need to know about the story.”
Journalists and news people spent a long time on a story and then delivered a fantastic story in the following day’s newspaper.
They exposed lies, fought for the truth and uncovered the cover ups. They were the soldiers of the forth estate, a free press who fought corruption and evil head on.
Each story they published was poetic, informational, inspiring and well-put with an admirable man smoking a cigarette in front of a darkened background.
They didn’t need graphics or fancy scrolling distractions to make the story more compelling, because the story was all they needed.
That’s how the daily news is supposed to be.
TV News Networks
Fast forward to the early ’80s when CNN first came about. At first they seemed so fresh and so very very convenient. It all began when the United States attacked Iraq at the beginning of the Gulf War. CNN was the only newsgroup reporting live on the ground. Their reporters were cooped up in a hotel while the anti-air weapons were being fired just outside the window of their room. It was one of the greatest moments in journalistic history.
What CNN started then became the basis for everything that followed. They were no longer considered an experimental network.
New 24-hour networks soon appeared on the scene and began to further saturate the market after hi-jacking CNN’s format.
Nowadays, all major networks are fighting each other over who is more non-biased.
Each network tries to show how they report both sides of a story equally, but it’s the worst kept secret ever.
It’s not even a secret. It’s so easy to recognise when something is biased, unless they’ve aimed their content directly at your ideology.
The TV news networks know well that confirmation bias blinds people to the bias because it supports their point of view. Hence, their content is correct to those supporting any bias aimed directly at them.
One of the main problems we have with the television news networks, besides their obvious heightening of tension and drama, is the fact that they don’t have enough news to fill their day.
Nowadays the 24 hour TV networks take a news story which would previously have taken about three paragraphs in a decent newspaper, and then expand it out to 20 minutes plus commercials.
They add in some fancy graphics and animation, talking heads and paid experts, then discuss the three paragraphs of news.
Everything they broadcast is now treated like a cliffhanger.
Salience bias describes our tendency to focus on items or information that are more noteworthy while ignoring those that don’t grab our attention. In economics, market failure happens when there is an inefficient distribution of goods and services in a free market.
The 24-hour news cycle is a market failure – it intensifies salience bias, which results in the inefficient distribution of information to the public.
News consumers are naturally drawn to stories that are intentionally crafted by news outlets to be enticing. This isn’t to say that the big stories we see on the news aren’t important.
Rather, in the words of Jon Stewart, news outlets are “elevating the stakes of every moment” and putting the public in the “information blast zone,” and this causes a breakdown in information dissemination.
We are all prone to salience bias.
In June 1980, CNN became the world’s first 24-hour news network. This shift away from traditional news – where people would wait until a designated time to catch up on stories – created a phenomenon that behavioural economists have dubbed “the CNN effect” – the theory that 24-hour news outlets influence the general political and economic climate.
Because TV news media outlets provide ongoing coverage of a particular subject matter, viewers’ attention becomes narrowly focused for prolonged periods of time. This increased attention can affect the market values of companies that find themselves in focus and cause individuals and organizations to react to the covered subject matter in ways that they would not have otherwise done.
Stress and Demand
High-stress situations raise the demand for news coverage. Research after the 9/11 attacks found that adults watched, on average, eight hours of event-related coverage in the days immediately following.
Similarly, as news coverage on COVID increased between January 1 and March 19, 2020, as did the internet and social media traffic on the topic.
As a result, the TV news outlets have played a leading role in influencing policymakers and event outcomes.
Private Interest Groups and “Dark Money”
Is the world a more terrifying place than it used to be, or is it possible that we have simply allowed multinational media conglomerates to monetise our anxiety for profit?
“Dark money” refers to political spending by donors whose sources of wealth are unkown. This is a key player in our situation. Without understanding the active work being done to influence public opinion, it is impossible to fully understand the salience bias issue in the news.
Research suggests that advertising funded by dark money can “amplify existing resentments and anxieties, raise the emotional stakes of particular issues or [bring] to the foreground some concerns at the expense of others, stir distrust among potential coalition partners, and subtly influence decisions about ordinary behaviors (like whether to go vote or attend a rally).“
In doing so, it increases salience for chosen topics by exploiting the emotions of TV news media consumers.
Bad News Travels Fast
“Euill news neuer commeth to late.”
They say that bad news travels fast. This concept first appeared in print in the 16th century. Since then, the speed at which news travels has only got progressively faster.
Despite this apparent progress, there is very little evidence that having information delivered quickly has been of any cultural benefit for most of us, outside of maybe military strategists and corporate raiders.
When I first became aware of the effect it was having on me I stopped allowing Twitter to send me news updates. This was in the middle of what would later be called the Great Twitter Migration of 2022. It was predicated by an egocentric billionaire buying up a social media juggernaut and then inadvertently depopulating it.
All in all, not your typical set of events. However, almost without warning, I found myself in a brave new world.
Suddenly, I wasn’t constantly assaulted with BREAKING NEWS. I went and found my news, read it at my leisure, thought about it, wrote about it here on Rambling in Pen, after which, maybe I discussed it with others. It was a much longer process.
One day I realized how much I resented the added stress of thinking I needed news to be timely. I didn’t need most of this information, and I certainly didn’t need it quickly.
Neither did anyone else. It was all manufactured hype designed to make us hyper-vigilant, anxious, and afraid of missing out on the hot topic of the day.
I have since come to grips with the reality that my reports on the comings and goings of the humans on this planet are nothing that anyone needs in any sort of timely manner, no matter important I think they may be.
Neither do I have to worry that someone is going to scoop me on the things I like to write about.
It has been suggested that more of us should embrace a new approach to reading a more long-form journalism and less of these reactionary ‘hot takes’ that are pycologically designed to excite and enrage people.
From Ripe To Rotten In A Blink
Most of what we think of as news is salacious hype designed to titillate, anger, excite or otherwise vex us into believing that the information being provided is not only relevant, but critical to our personal safety and professional success.
But how often is that really true?
The vast majority of what we call news is only relevant to a small number of people, and almost none of it is timely. We treat the news like it’s an avocado pear that just became ripe, and now you have thirty minutes before it becomes inedible.
There was a time that yesterday’s news was only good for wrapping fish or house-breaking puppies.
Because the news today took precedence, and we only had so much bandwidth in our brains and time in our day.
Now it’s digital and infinite. The news has no beginning or end. It just is.
Data Is Not News
There is a mode of thinking which believes that the most honest, neutral, fair, and balanced news is that which simply reports the facts. No editorial. No opinion. Just the who, why, where, what, when. And how. This is a pretty common ideal and it is shared by many.
It sounds great, of course, except for the fact that without context, most of us aren’t in a position to evaluate the information. It’s like looking at raw data.
The fact that there is no such thing as objective journalism further muddies the water. What people talk about is what they see and hear. This is largely influenced by their personal experiences, cultural history, biases, and prejudices.
The problem with news broadcasts today is not that people have too much context, but not enough. The simple facts almost never tell the whole story. What happened after? What led up to the incident? What caused it? Who did it affect?
People have been trained (poorly) to accept headlines and sound bites as news, as the sensational tone is all they need to extrapolate out the entire gist of the story. If the New York Times said it, then it must be true. Or maybe for some it’s Fox News.
It’s simple enough. Take an inflammatory headline, add a trusted source, and you have a verifiable set of facts without ever having to read, or understand, what really happened.
But what if people changed their ideas about what was important to know in the world, and that “Breaking News” had about as much value to them as a fart in the wind?
What if they valued accuracy and thoroughness over anxiety-ridden timeliness? Would they be more or less informed?
The Slow News Movement
The so-called “slow movement” began as a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in Piazza di Spagna, Rome in 1986.
Initially conceived as a thoughtful alternative to fast food, the Slow Food Movement aspired to promote traditional and regional cuisine, by also encouraging organic farming of heirloom varieties of plants and livestock, and the support of small purveyors and sustainable foods.
The slow movement focused on quality over quantity. Taste over speed. Regional idiosyncrasies over mass consumerism.
Over time, the slow movement expanded to include a variety of activities and cultural movements, from parenting and education, to travel and fashion. The central theme of each movement is the theory that we need to slow down and be more engaged and purposeful with what we’re doing.
So why not think about that with our input on Breaking News events?
Peter Laufer is an independent journalist, broadcaster, and documentary filmmaker. he is also the James Wallace Chair in Journalism at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. He has written extensively on this subject.
“We must eat in order to survive. Accurate information can be another requirement for our survival. Yet our quest for instant information has made it more difficult to find the truth and see the larger picture behind breaking events.
We need to ask ourselves what news is important and why. Quasi-hysterical news presentations – especially from broadcast and Internet-based outlets – can lead us to believe that the information being foisted on us is critical to know right now (and to hear and see repeatedly), even though it may warrant only a few lines in the back pages of tomorrow’s newspaper.“
So much of what is being “foisted on us,” is little more than gossip being presented as critical Breaking News.
Many of our news outlets have now become nothing more than cheap supermarket tabloids, hawking the latest bit of dirt and tawdry rumours on celebrities, politicians, and world events. If it bleeds, it leads. Even if people find this entertaining, there is no reason they need this information delivered to them so quickly.
“Have you heard…..?”
It’s not just news outlets trying to out-scoop one another. It’s everyone trying to scoop their family, neighbours, and friends.
People have allowed themselves to be programmed and thus become part of a distribution mill of salacious news, posting and boosting, as quickly as possible, so that they can feel superior in knowing something before the next guy.
Stop Feeding The Beast
The only way to combat this madness is to stop feeding the beast. Stop rewarding corporate media with our time and attention until they stop trying to force their saturated fat, salt, and corn syrup on our damaged palates.
People need more whole foods, such as books and journals, and less junk in the form of celebrity clickbait and political imbroglio.
Resist the temptation to sensationalize the news, spread hot takes, and share gossip.
Sit with things for a bit. Do a bit more research. Make a conscious effort to determine if this is actual news that could help someone or just glorified violence on our psyches.
It won’t happen all at once, but if we each made a small effort, we might be able to eventually shift the direction of the ship in a better direction.
Nowadays it seems that every news broadcast is treated like some kind of a cliffhanger.
We even have people who now call themselves news junkies. They’re terrified that they’ll miss out on the dopamine fix of hearing breaking news first and then being able to disseminate that to their friends on social media.
It’s the FOMO of news gathering. Fear of missing out.
That’s not healthy.
What people need today is a new movement that can reshape their ideas about what they find important and what they allow to control their time and attention.
They need to reject corporate media’s demand that gives them our attention so freely. People need the opposite of breaking news. They need to slow things down, not speed them up.
Think about what you read. Be skeptical of your rationale for sharing gossip. Slow down. It can all wait.
Rambling in Pen hopes that you’ve enjoyed this article. If so, please share it with your friends and family.
We leave you now with a tune from Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit. Check out the lyrics, there’s a hell of a message in them.
Peace and Tranquility.
Author: Michael W