I know this may seem ironic coming from a newsman, but does the news make you feel good on a regular basis?
Television news broadcasts can be depressing. Your social media feed can be worse.
Admittedly, some news in your community newspaper can bring you down from time to time as well.
More and more often, people may feel more afraid, angry, cynical, and hopeless after watching the evening news.
Broadcast news has developed over the years to compete with entertainment for TV ratings.
Back in the days of Walter Cronkite, the evening news was a loss leader.
CBS made money on “I Love Lucy,” not the “Evening News.”
Not anymore. Network news is a cash cow these days.
As a result, they tend to sensationalize danger and wrongdoing, evoking fears of corruption and impending doom.
Media nerds like me learned in graduate school about the negative effects this has on society. But the implications for everyday people are worth discussing. A communications writer, George Gerbner, coined a phrase for this: “Mean World Syndrome.” It deals with the impact watching television has on how we see the world.
The Mean World Syndrome goes one step further, describing the perception that the world is more dangerous than it really is, based on what’s shown in mass media.
There are thousands of studies that suggest a strong connection between television watching and aggression.
Over the decades, much has been done to shield children from violence on television, but some say that is missing the point. Instead of focusing on ways to hide the violence, some question the ways in which the violence is portrayed.
Violence on television and video games can normalize aggressive behavior and make viewers become desensitized.
Gerbner said the mind then becomes “militarized.”
The more dangerous the news shows the world to be, the more we believe them. We become fearful and anxious, depend more on authority, and take other precautionary measures.
“Growing up in a violence-laden culture breeds aggressiveness in some and desensitization, insecurity, mistrust, and anger in most. Punitive and vindictive action against dark forces in a mean world is made to look appealing, especially when presented as quick, decisive, and enhancing our sense of control and security,“ Gerbner once said.
He wrote that back in the 1970s.
Where, then, have we come now?
Did you know that crime is at a 30-year low in this country?
We are safer than we’ve ever been.
In every category: murders, rapes, drug use… every category… crime is down.
You couldn’t tell it by watching the 10 o’clock news.
The average newscast is about 26 minutes. There are about six minutes for weather and five for sports.
That leaves the station 19 minutes to grab and keep your attention.
The advertising is more effective that way.
When 15 minutes of the newscast is doom and gloom, leaving only two minutes, after commercials, for something positive — what is the mind supposed to think?
I’ve been guilty of this too.
As a newsman, I know what sells newspapers. A terrible car wreck or controversy at the school board meeting wins every time.
It is what it is.
But we err on the side of positive whenever possible.
I don’t think the TV guys do that as much.
At the end of the day, you are responsible for the media you consume. If you take in violence, you will be in a violent mood and that is not good.
We need to keep up with the world around us, but take it with a grain a salt. For every story about a violent crime, there are thousands of stories about communities coming together.
Seek out those stories.
Seek out the good stuff. There is always more good than there is bad.