And eat your vegetables, too

Friends, this is probably blasphemous to say on Election Day, but TV news isn’t good for you. A lot of the “news” that people are taking in these days isn’t good for them.

I reached the point a few weeks back where I had to disengage with this election. I voted, and I feel good about the votes I cast. But I don’t feel good about where the country is headed, regardless of who wins. People are spewing so much hatred and anger, and a lot of that is the result of reading and watching junk news that is being passed off as journalism.

There’s a lot of talk about the liberal, elite media, and I’m befuddled by that phrase. I have worked at five different newspapers, if you include my college paper. Here is what I know about journalists: They earn modest salaries and buy used cars and worry about their property tax bills and struggle to be good parents while working the crazy schedule that journalism demands. They tend to be badly dressed. Some of them are devout Christians, Jews and Muslims, and some are atheists. Most of them are whip-smart, which is what you want in a group of people who are trying to keep tabs on the ethics of our leaders.

The Internet was supposed to provide diverse viewpoints and help all of us to become better educated. Instead, it has provided a place for biased news to proliferate, and many of us now only read things that affirm our viewpoints instead of suffering the discomfort of reading a different viewpoint. (Hello, confirmation bias!)

Here’s the thing: Good journalists think a lot about being fair and representing all sides of an argument. They check whether their data comes from a nonpartisan source. They consider whether both candidates look similarly friendly when they choose photos. They think about who a story helps and who it harms and whether they can justify running it if it harms someone.

Good journalism educates people, empowers them and teaches them compassion. If the news you are reading or watching leaves you full of hatred and fear, it’s time to switch your habits. I’d recommend subscribing to your local paper or its website, listening to NPR, or checking out one of the great upstart nonprofit news sites.

A new president isn’t going to repair this damage. We have to want to repair it and take strides in that direction. We would do well to nourish our minds and spirits instead of consuming more garbage. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “We become what we think about all day long.”

2 thoughts on “And eat your vegetables, too

  1. Bravo. Are you befuddled by “liberal, elite media” because you disagree or because the internet has become what it has? I read daily several news sites (both conservative and liberal) and was surprised not only at the lopsided coverage by all, but by the general acknowledgment that this seemed acceptable, at least for this election. I get that newspapers tend to have a political leaning, but it went way beyond that. Plus, the media openly admitting a bias seemed particularly incongruous.

  2. Part of the question is how we define “elite.” I tend to think of that as meaning wealthy, though obviously that is strongly tied to education. I think people look at Arianna Huffington or Megyn Kelly and think that is representative of all journalists. The vast majority of journalists have college degrees, but they certainly are not making the sort of income that would qualify them as elite. They live in middle-class neighborhoods and send their kids to public schools. The journalists with $10-million contracts are not out in the world interviewing the commoners, nor are they doing the sort of investigative work that uncovers government corruption. Cable TV is not the place to find smart, even-handed news.

    As far as the liberal part, I would say that many journalists fall in the independent camp because they know how unsavory politics can be on all sides. I know people who have dropped newspaper subscriptions over an endorsement, and I want to shake them. Most print organizations maintain a wall between their editorial sides and their news sides. A paper has an editorial board with a handful of people who make the endorsement. Those employees only write editorials, not news. Likewise, the news reporters have no say in the endorsement and do not write editorials.

    I think that the media made a lot of mistakes this election, but I also think it was really hard to cover such a divided electorate. People were only willing to talk to others who were on their side. I’ve read several stories of reporters receiving death threats. How do you get people to talk to you when they want to kill you for doing your job?

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