To be or not to be informed?
January 2, 2013 2:25 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for intelligent ideas to help me distinguish between what is "worthy news" and what is "gratuitous news". Can anyone point me in the direction of some good solid writing on this topic?

Dearest Mefites. I am looking for insightful readings on the topic of "news". Cultural theory / media theory type writing.

Background: I am someone who hates to read or watch the news because I tend to find it terribly upsetting. But I also feel a moral responsibility, as a citizen of the world, to be informed. I grapple with these questions:

What is (legitimate) news? What should be news? What is the value of being informed? Is it our responsibility to be informed? About what, and why? I want to get right down to the nitty gritty of what we have a moral responsibility to be informed about and why. I think there is so much news that we don't "need" to know, but there is some that we "should" know… but what guidelines can we use to distinguish between the two?

For example, there are horrific news stories that bear no apparent relevance to my life, e.g. shootings in America (I am Australian) that just make me feel incredibly sad and incredibly infuriated. But should I know about these things? When is news that is horrific, still gratuitous?

Of course there are only people's ideas, but I am interested to hear some intelligent ones…

If you can recommend intelligent, insightful, analyses (preferably essays or articles rather than full books) on this theme that I can sink my teeth into, I would be very grateful. Thank you. -beccyjoe
posted by beccyjoe to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe this is not as comprehensive an answer as you would like, but I've found that when a headline ends in a question mark, the article under it is not news. It's total fluff at best, or at worst it's a push-poll masquerading as journalism.
posted by fritley at 2:47 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Jay Rosen's Pressthink website is almost exactly what you are asking for. The Highlights section on the right of the homepage, with essays like this in it is a great place to start.
posted by smoke at 2:50 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't think there is much moral responsibility to be informed--there are some practical reasons, sometimes--but I suspect I'm an outlier in this, and I don't expect to change your POV here. Still, you could consider the idea that it's really OK for you to neglect the 99.9% of news that you can't do anything substantive about, especially if it tends to make you sad or angry.

In any case, if you are finding the news upsetting, why don't you take a holiday from it? Take a month off from deliberately following the news. See what it's like. Unless you are a hermit, you will find yourself hearing about plenty of current events whether you seek the news out or not. You can think over your moral responsibilities in the meantime, and I suspect the abstention will make it easier to think clearly about what is and isn't really important.
posted by mattu at 2:52 PM on January 2, 2013

This makes me think of Thoreau: "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."

I would recommend reading Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. I don't know what TV news is like in Australia, but in the U.S. the cable news channels are almost purely products of show business. The nightly news broadcasts on the major networks are only slightly better. If you are familiar with the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, they primarily satirize the sad state of TV news (cable, network, and local), but people in the media seem to be oblivious to this and tend to think they are primarily satirizing politics. I avoid all TV news, though I still read plenty of written news online — mostly from the New York Times — but one strategy I've heard of is only reading the headlines in newspaper machines. Basically, only news that makes it "above the fold," supplemented by friends filling you in on any really big stories. This can be a good way to start conversations, but you have to be okay with not knowing the details of a story when everyone else finds out.
posted by stopgap at 7:45 PM on January 2, 2013

This might not be exactly what you're looking for (and it's primarily about politics, although its parallels are broad), but this recent essay by Alex Pareene in The Baffler is excellent.
posted by dekathelon at 11:25 PM on January 2, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks @dekathelon, @stopgap and @smoke - will check out those suggestions :)
posted by beccyjoe at 6:52 AM on January 4, 2013

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