Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Why I can't just flip the page

Whenever he saw me reading a newspaper, my dad would always ask me to report on one piece of good news.

Although occasionally, a tale of deserving lottery winners or cats with nine lives would leap from the page, usually, the search for positivity would take several minutes of frantic flipping with ink stained thumbs. Thus, in very few words, my father taught me both about the value of optimism, and, more memorably, the pessimistic bias of the popular media.

I sometimes wonder if reading the newspaper is more harm than it's worth. While I am generally a firm believer in the value in staying informed, particularly in local issues that both have an impact on one's life and that one can potentially influence, this is the stuff of the bottom article on page 30. This is not the stuff of headlines.

I don't need to spit out the cliches about sex and violence selling, or how the average person is ignorant to the fact that crime rates are actually decreasing, or whether most headlines have any direct relevance to the lives of the general population. On an intellectual level, I know this. But I still let it all sweep me up on a personal level.

Blurry-eyed and in my pyjamas, I went online Thursday morning, only to be instantaneously bombarded with the same horrific story as the rest of the world. An innocent man, a good man, slain in the most horrific way possible. I found the details searing themselves into my brain, wanting to distract myself from these awful facts I had no right knowing that were cycling through my head, over and over again. Yet, I still felt compelled to read more, to mindlessly click on the next link, preparing myself for another sharp breath of air as my eyes absorbed some of the cruelest and horrid details I'd ever read.

And then it was just too much, as though the reality of the event just collided with me at once, and the tears began plummeting. Tears because, as sensationalistic as it was already becoming, less than 24 hours later, what grounded the story was that it happened to someone very real.

Perhaps this is why I shouldn't read the news. In order to be able to process the vivid declarations of accidents, overdoses, assaults and murders, you almost have to stop seeing the people, and just focus on the event as a story by itself. And I've never been very good at reiterating "Oh, isn't that awful" and just flipping the page.

27 comments:

Matt said...

I have steered away from paper and just read online news now but...finding positivity is tough. Especially when their focus is to find stories to *sell* newspapers, or attract web visitors.

good deeds just arent interesting

deutlich said...

these days, the news sucks

Nilsa S. said...

I haven't read an actual paper in years. I merely read the headlines online. I get most of my news from NPR, which I think does a relatively good job of balancing the good and the bad, within each story, let alone from one news segment to the next.

lspoon said...

Yeah I still go straight for the comics :)

EF said...

I'm trusting this didn't have anything to do with brett favre?


Seriously- a ghastly story that gets worse the more you learn about the assailant. but, the news is usually reality and tells what is really going on- with a few biases to increase consumption, of course.

what do they read in china?

All Mod Cons said...

My housemate and I were watching the news this evening, and for 30 minutes there wasn't a single piece of good news. Everything was death and destruction. Then you get the little snippet at the end, the bit that's supposed to make you smile and say "Oh, the world isn't that bad a place after all". But by that time we'd both died of depression.

Wonder if they could fill a half hour slot of just good news?

pelf said...

I don't read the hard news anymore these days because the political situation in my home country is hilarious. Seriously.

Princess of the Universe said...

I haven't been able to get that story out of my head since last week. It's awful, and shocking, and depressing, and so so close to home.

What depresses me is when I see Britney Spears or other celeb gossip on the front page of the newspaper. Seriously?! This is the most important thing in Winnipeg today - the fact the Britney failed to show up to court again!?

Surfergrrl said...

whenever i need to center myself, shutting off the tv, and especially the news is always my first step. it's not that i want to avoid news, I just need to de-clutter my mind of negative stories.

Bayjb said...

I read the paper (online) but only selected sections. I've all but stopped watching the news too because it's depressing. No thanks.

poodlegoose said...

I really shouldn't read the comments above me, because I chuckled out loud at the Favre one.

But in all seriousness, as horrible as the news is these days (even if it is getting a smidgen better), what's almost more horrible is the callousness we feel toward such events. We are so used to hearing about "lesser" crimes, that it barely affects us.

We need more people who are moved by what is happening, reported or not. Your reaction really brought this home to me.

Katelin said...

i hate reading the news too, but every so often i like the nice surprises of compassion and hero stories. makes me feel just a little bit better.

Essentially Me said...

I know ... that story was hard to imagine. I didn't want it to be true.

tmamone said...

I try not to let the media control me. I skim through articles to know what's going on, but I don't let it consume me. I used to do that. Not a good idea!

ToughGirl101 said...

Maybe i'm callous, but I have not thought of that story since. To be honest, this war, losing friends, losing lovers... I guess it's just made me so callous.

Maxie said...

I try not to read the local paper because they talk about my job (I work in local government) a lot and I can't deal with the bias and negativity.

rs27 said...

when I was growing up my mom wouldn't let us watch the news because "bad stuff was going on"

I just wanted to see Al Roker rattle off some birthdays.

nrichie2345 said...

I love hearing about some of the clever tactics our parents used to resort to while trying to make kids learn. Journalism has come to its bitter low recently. I couldn't agree with you more, journalism is all about action-packed stories and scandal, ignoring the fact that there's a genuine person at the center of these tales.

eric1313 said...

"pyjamas"

Must be one of those crazy canuck words. No this is not hate speech, it's just a little harassment of a friend long neglected.

My bad, for reals.

The headline in the Detroit Free Press this morning was about how a man from Iron Mountain (in the Upper Peninsula, or UP, damn yoopers) who crossed over to Wisconsin wearing camo and carrying a rifle, laid in the bushes for hours until three teenagers walked by. He then lept up and shot all 3 of them, with one escaping wounded to tell the tale to 911.

The gunman was captured, but he is expected to plead not guilty by mental defect.

That's your line of work, and I bet we agree on this: Barking mad or not, the man put on camo, grabbed his gun, crossed a state border and laid in the bushes for a long time with the intent of killing somebody (anybody), which he unfortunately did. This constitutes planning, right? He better not get a psych ward that does not also happen to have permanent cells.

And what was in the back page, at the bottom in clipped lines only a few paragraphs long? a small bit about how a large group of children 10 to 15 years of age led by adult volunteers have been working through the summer and have cleaned all the refuse from the shorelines of the southeastern Michigan coastline north of the D. Lovely, but not considered compelling in the least by editors.

...

That's all I have to say--I'll say it again.

...

Now that that's out of my system, I really just meant to say hello, but as so often happens, you pulled me in for a nouvelle-like response.

And yeah--go Wings! (thank you for the smile with you comment, though it pulled the old heartstrings out of whack a bit with it's sad reminder of my poor friendship skillz) Zetterberg holding down the stick of Crosby as he stood there by the net waiting for a cookie was the crowning moment. He deserved the Con Smythe for that play alone, if not the 20+ points.

If Pits keeps that team together, we may not have very much more luck in the coming years.

Glad to catch up a bit and ramble.

Gotta go, it's late/early.

peace out!

eric1313 said...

And like I said, try to fanagle both Datsyuk and Z next time. If your hockey pool is like fantasy hockey, you'll double up on points every night, as one almost always assists the other. I cleaned up one year back in the nineties by manging to get Selane and Kariya--and they both netted 50 that year! Too bad that money is long gone...

nicoleantoinette said...

Yeah, I feel really similarly about the news and yet I can't stop reading it.

Jenn said...

I used to work for a newspaper in a small town. I often questioned the stories they'd put on the front page. "This is news?!" Once I got back to Chicago I ended up missing the stories about the middle school children or white squirrel count.

Chicago's papers are full of death, drugs and corruption. I miss the balance of good and bad.

Half-Past Kissin' Time said...

Those of us who live in that sensitive "zone" are vulnerable to these reactions. That same sensitivity, though, is what makes you the beautiful writer you are.

Yoda said...

Well you could always stop caring for other people and read the bad news and feel happy about how fine and dandy your own life is!

That works just great for me!!

Crashdummie said...

i'm with you there. Sometimes I dunno how ppl can just not be effected about the things that is happening around us.

guess ignorance is a bliss - we wouldnt be able to cope with all the brutality and injustice in the world.

lissa said...

yep i agree. i steer clear of the newspaper -- it's definitely the media's edge to grab your attention with the saddest, most dramatic stories.

Sheila said...

I too have never been very good at simply saying "Oh, isn't that awful" and just flipping the page. SOme stories touch me on a deep level, leaving me in tears.

When I took journalism in school, one of the first items we were told/taught is that journalism is unbiased. Yeah, right. I guess all the stuff in today's popular media is written by those who were never taught that.

If we lived vloser to one another, I'd invite you over for some coffe and sweets!