Let me start by saying a free and independent press is essential to the protection of liberty and democracy (at least in theory).
On the other hand, most media coverage these days has little to do with good government, the coverage of civic issues is frequently superficial, there’s very little investigative journalism compared to the media’s heyday, and the public has become much more tolerant of corruption and incompetence since the shock of Watergate, the revelation of Iran-Contra, and Bill Clinton’s misadventures. So while there may be smoke, there’s rarely fire – this includes not only the media, but also most reform groups who may fight the good fight, but don’t have much of a winning record in the real world.
I’ve pretty much stopped following local news – it’s heavy on sports, entertainment and tragedies (crime, fires, accidents), and the political coverage just gets me worked up, since I’m not in a position to change things anymore, and those who are aren’t doing a good job of it.
I read the New York Times and Wall Street Journal just about every day because they have a lot of interesting national and international stories and they tend to have more room to give thorough coverage than local media (we have some great journalists, but I don’t think the modern newspaper is a complete enough platform for their skills and there aren’t enough of them to cover everything that’s important in a thorough way – which is why I think newspapers are failing – there may be 7-10 stories worth covering, but only 2-3 get written and is that enough to justify the cover price?).
Tonight I was reading about the mosque controversy in NYC and ended up blogging about it on facebook. I may change a few people’s minds, but it’s also very possible I wasted an hour and got all worked up for nothing (I’m a big beleiver in freedom of expression). There are only 24 hours in a day and wouldn’t my time be better spent doing some sort of social entrepreneurship (working on a new initiative for the museum or maybe drafting a chapter of my book).
I guess I read the news because that’s what I think and have been programmed to think that educated people are supposed to do, and much of what I read now and share is uplifting and shows human creativity and/or generosity.
On the other hand, reading bad economic news isn’t exactly good for your spirits when you’re looking for work – the irony is that I get some satisfaction from being right about the ongoing decline – I knew we were screwed on several levels pretty early on in Bush’s first term and the collapse is consistent with my expectations.
I don’t see myself not reading a paper (I actually really enjoy small town weeklies and Ocean City is one of my favorites), but maybe I’ll try even harder to stick with the “good” news for inspiration and ideas – I usually just post the link, no long tirades or involuntary reversion to my gift for civic education ;-).
There are a lot of things we do because of inertia or tradition – I think we read the paper or watch the news because we’ve always done it, so back to the original question – Is News Necessary?
I’m curious as to why the news resonates with other people (or doesn’t) and expect some of you would have very different views – from not reading at all to reading multiple papers cover to cover. If you’re inclined, please share your thoughts (on this or anything else I post ;-). Thanks!