If people want to read news articles rather than crime novels or watch CNN rather than The Bachelor, who am I to criticize their choices? Despite my recent claim that news makes us dumb (which I still believe), I really don’t think consuming news is harmful if it is treated for what it is—junk food for the mind.
The problem is that your behavior is considered aberrant if you don’t join in daily news consumption. This is a peculiar bias. If you refuse to indulge in Twinkies, junk food junkies don’t assume you are undernourished. Yet if you refuse to gorge on news, news junkies assume you are under-informed. Why is that?
Presumably, they think there is something to be gained from devouring news. But what are they getting out of it? As Rolf Dobell says:
Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career, your business – compared to what you would have known if you hadn’t swallowed that morsel of news.
Assume that, against all odds, you found one piece of news that substantially increased the quality of your life – compared to how your life would have unfolded if you hadn’t read or seen it. How much trivia did your brain have to digest to get to that one relevant nugget? Even that question is a hindsight analysis. Looking forward, we can’t possibly identify the value of a piece of news before we see it, so we are forced to digest everything on the news buffet line. Is that worthwhile? Probably not.
In 1914, the news story about the assassination in Sarajevo dwarfed all other reports in terms of its global significance. But, the murder in Sarajevo was just one of several thousand stories in circulation that day. No news organization treated this historically pivotal homicide as anything more than just another politically inspired assassination.
(Via: Bryan Caplan)
Note: This post is dedicated to my friend Ted Olsen, news director at Christianity Today and unapologetic news junkie.