There is a furious battle going on these days. That battle is for your attention. The media is fighting to attract and retain your attention every minute of the day, regardless of where you are or what you are doing. Their goal is to disrupt your focus, stop what you are doing and pay attention to what they have to say. It takes you away from doing important work. It takes you away from engaging in an interesting conversation with a friend, but most importantly it uses up a commodity that you can’t get back, your time. Consciously or unconsciously you are fighting to not be sucked in by all the props and attention grabbing tricks the media uses to reel you in.
At one time, while watching TV, a station would interrupt programming to provide a special news bulletin. It may have been an exceptional event such as planes hitting the World Trade Center Towers, or the 6.9 magnitude San Francisco earthquake of 1989, or the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that hit Indonesia. These were events that required your attention for any number of reasons, one being, knowing a loved one that may have been directly affected by the event allowing you to reach out to them in a timely manner.
However, now days you may have realised that there is an incredible amount of “Breaking News.” The news is often hours old, has been on loop or just an insignificant tidbit to many who are watching. The “Breaking News” banner hits the screen with a swash of colour accompanied by dramatic music, and bang, your reaction is always the same, “What happened that I need to know about?”
Focus group research shows that generally, the station or network that is considered the best at covering breaking news can expect to be number one in the Nielsen ratings. So, rather than devoting their efforts to deep reporting, in an effort to uncover the truth, these networks have opted for the easy way out. They take one story and beat it to death on loop over a 24 hour period in order to keep you engaged and entertained.
The payoff to the media is additional ad revenue. The loser; however, is you, the viewer. Just ask yourself how many important breaking news stories happened over the past week that you most likely spent everyday all week reading or hearing about. By spending 10 minutes on one well written article, you would have learned all you needed or wanted to learn about the event.
It is not 24 hour news anymore, it is 10 seconds of news and 23 hours 59 minutes and 50 seconds of opinion. The truth is, there is actually a financial benefit to investigations, but it is a longer-term investment. Readers appreciate when their newspapers ask tough questions in a fight to uncover the truth. They like corruption to be exposed, abuse of power to be challenged, and serious scandals to be unearthed. It reminds them what journalism is for. They admire it. They are even willing to pay for it.
Unfortunately, as long as people keep getting sucked into the attention traps that the media creates, journalism is not coming back. So how can you fight against it? There are some simple changes you can make.
- Pick one or two “reputable sources” of news
- Choose a few minutes at the end of the day to review it
- Ask yourself, “Is this news or is this opinion?” If it is opinion turn it off (unless of course it is an individual’s opinion that you value highly).
That’s it, there is nothing more to do. I can guarantee by making these slight changes in your viewing habits that you will be no less wiser about what is going on, but will have gained a large chunk of time to make better use of, and you will also find that you feel less anxious about the world.