Who Cares About the News?

Fragmented Lifestyles, the Diversions of New Technology and a Sense of Powerlessness Lead Many to Entertainment over Staying Informed

News | Anna Claessen | April 2007

News presenter of CNN (Photo: Courtesy of CNN)

As times change, so does the news. We’re now in the digital age, with 24-hour news, and media that seem to morph into new forms before our eyes. We can watch whatever we want, when we want, and how we want.

Before, we had little choice, so we read and watched what was offered in a handful of newspaper, newsmagazines and network channels. Today, the sources seem limitless, and the number of newspapers, TV and radio stations can be overwhelming. Since the arrival of the Internet, we have an opportunity to download or upload what we’ve missed. Today, we have a lot of to choose from. Perhaps too much.

"Year-on-year we are continuing to see a seismic shift in where, when and how Europe’s population consume media for information and entertainment and this has big implications for TV, newspaper and radio," said Jupiter Research analyst Olivier Beauvillian, according to BBC news in Dec. 2004.

If you had a choice between watching American Idol or the Presidential Election, what would it be, entertainment or news?

In America, people seem to be choosing entertainmeant. In a May 2003 study, forty million people watched American Idol’s conclusion, while only 37 million watched the second debate between Bush and Gore.

Three years later, it seems to be no better.  The top stories last month were about Britney Spears shaving her head and going to a rehab, and the death of Anna Nicole Smith. That’s what people talk about. That is their "interest."

But why aren’t people watching, or even reading, the news?

Is it fragmented lifestyles, the diversions of changing technology, and even too many choices that makes people choose entertainment over news?

Or maybe people just don’t trust the media anymore.

Here is my theory: I think it’s escapism, and a feeling of powerlessness.

My boyfriend comes from Kosovo and lived through the Kosovo war. He actually saw people, children and animals dying daily and he was almost killed on several occasions. Despite this, he spends his time now watching videos from Iraq.

On the other hand, I come from Iceland and we have never lived through a war but I am terrified of it. I would rather watch something entertaining, so I can have sweet dreams at night.

I often ask him why he watches this and he says: "I’d rather watch something real than fake." He faces what is going on in the world:

When we see people dying on screen, we try to avoid it. We feel impotent, aware that we can’t do anything about it. Nothing good seems to come out of watching the news, because watching is not the same as doing. We seem to be avoiding this reality as defense mechanism, in order to function in a world where people are dying for a war that makes no sense. But maybe that’s just an excuse.

Maybe it scares us to death, but we need to know what’s going on in the world. My boyfriend thinks awareness is important: Raising people’s awareness, he says, pressures the government to act responsibly. So they can make a difference. The criticism of President Bill Clinton slow entry into the Bosnian war pressured him to act quickly in Kosovo -- an action that brought a swift end to that war and may well have saved my boyfriend’s life.

If you´re aware you can have an effect. At least there is a chance. They say, it only takes one person. What if  Martin Luther King Jr. hadn’t boycotted the busses after Rosa Park’s arrest? Would anything have happened?

Whatever I do, I want to avoid the narcissism of American actor Bruce Willis who thinks news avoidance is healthy: "That’s why I have that youthful glow about me. I don’t look worried," he said according to World Entertainment News in May 2006.

There are many ways to stay informed without having to experience the terror on the screen, in our living rooms, 24 hours a day.

We could, for example, try reading the newspaper.

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