How’s this for irony: We live in a country built on the premise of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, yet our education system doesn’t teach you what that means. Apparently, you are supposed to be born with a bit of a priori knowledge of the rights and responsibilities bestowed to you in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
That’s a really nice segue into my first point: There’s absolutely no reason on earth why you should know much of anything about news. Take comfort in that. It throws open the door on possibility. Possibility on how much there is to learn, which is always a positive. Possibility in how limitless your questions may be — and how each of those questions are important and never, ever meaningless.
Now, let’s talk about change. This is the hardest element for most people to accept, because the concept of change is sometimes hard to get your head around, requires you to start thinking and investing energy into habits you used to perform with nary a thought (like brushing your teeth or tying your shoes). And, yes, change is a bit scary, too, since you just never know where things will lead. But, if you are like most people, your media habits are not giving your brain all the necessary information it needs to make sound judgments. In short, most people feed their brains fast food, whereas a healthy media diet actually exercises the mind.
The television and the personal computer should be viewed as weapons. Weapons that provide you with access to a plethora of information: news, opinions, advertisements, misleading information, false reports, lies, suggestive content, offensive and explicit language, and product spotlights you don’t want the kids to see. Yet, people leave both the TV and computer on, either for background noise or because it’s convenient that to have to reboot.
Break this habit now. Children readily absorb what you mostly ignore as background noise. TV brings into your livingroom such things as people arguing, images of bombings, crying babies and bloody survivors. Children are uniquely susceptible to not only recording these images, but making simple but serious associations such as, “If it happened to that child, maybe it will happen to me.” Same theory holds true on computers with internet access: If a child is left unsupervised to surf the net, you literally have no idea what that child has absorbed.
So, turn them both off. Becoming conscious of the information you are absorbing is the first major step to creating a healthy media diet.
Next, do not rely on a single source to get your news. Lots of people subscribe to one newspaper, and watch one television news program. You’re doing yourself a major disservice, for a number of reasons: You stand to miss out on important information that may appear in other sources. If you read one story in one news outlet, you eliminate comparing that news with how other outlets have covered the story. Using one source for news really becomes a major problem when the story you relied on proves to be false. Let’s face it: Reporters are human. They make human errors. And, last but not least, yes, not all news outlets are created equal. Some have a political bias. Some are pro-business, some are anti-environment. And some are pro-business *and* anti-environment.
Lesson: Incorporate a variety of news outlets into your life to provide you with a variety of news and points of views.
Newspapers, magazines, online sources, radio and television are all fine, but also understand the fundamental differences.
Which leads us to the next lesson.
Television and radio news is truly fast-food news. A story is given to you in one minute, 30 seconds. That time limitation makes television and radio reporters give you a quick summary of the news, but they skip the details.
Newspapers give you more details and background on a story that television news can’t, but newspapers will give you the story the following day.
To truly understand an issue, you need newspapers to give you perspective and television and radio to give you the updates.
The internet fills a nice niche between offering lengthier stories (since running out of space is not an issue) with the ability to update stories with the immediacy of television and radio. Perhaps the Internet’s greatest strength is in allowing the reader to click and go directly to the various sources cited within a news report. For example, if the Attorney General issues a report, the online news story will provide a link to the report, so you could read the full report, if you are interested.
Each of these mediums have strengths and weaknesses, which is why it’s necessary for you to incorporate all of them into your daily news diet.
Finally, do a bit of research on the news outlets you naturally gravitating toward for your news. CNN and FOX News Channel are on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Want to know what other countries think of us? Look to the BBC, Al Jazeera, and other international news sources. Want to get the view from inside the U.S.? Go to PBS and NPR.
1. Spend a week focusing on what news you regularly allow into your life, and make note of your daily news habits. Start turning things “off” and become conscious of what you — and your family — are absorbing.
2. Incorporate a variety of sources.
3. Incorporate a variety of mediums — print, television, internet, radio.
4. Educate yourself to the biases and agendas, if any, of your news choices to beware of manipulation.
And congratulate yourself for opening yourself up to a world of possibilities.