Column: The effect of news on mental health


Graham Murphy

Reporting correspondent

Between social media, television, your web browser, and the paper, news is all around us. We are surrounded by a world of digestible bits of information. We have the ability to access it very easily at any time, and we are active consumers, perhaps we even pride ourselves in staying up to date, but is it really so good for us?

What makes news distinctive from other forms of information media is that it is easily consumable, and designed to catch your attention. Far from being information which analyzes on a critical level, it’s a marketable product, intended to create the illusion that we are informed about our world.

That illusion is harmful for a number of reasons, one of which being that it distorts our ability to accurately understand the issues that are unfolding around us. It does so by feeding us factoids that fall short of offering us a rounded view of any topic.

News requires issues to be turned into stories, with readily placed cause-effect relationships which will likely be politically charged. These types of stories will always somehow affirm the worldview we already have.

On a personal level, this hinders our ability to think multi-dimensionally or ingest more complicated information. On a societal level it deepens partisan divides.

Another harmful type of news story that goes hand-in-hand with biased reporting is shock factor news. When we see a violent bombing, a starving child, or an airplane crash, not only does it hurt our mind and body with stress, but that state of desensitized fear also makes us more impressionable to biased perspectives.

Since news does not encourage us to process deeply the information we are receiving, we feel ourselves compelled to continue to consume it in an addictive way.

It is a passive process by which we consume news media, and the feelings of powerlessness we experience as a result of witnessing the worlds horrors from a distance only encourage our own passive mood.

As a writer with The Ledger and an aspiring journalist, it’s obviously not in my line to discourage people from seeking out an understanding and the worlds issues, local or global. But just like we as a society had to rethink the consequences of products such as tobacco or fast food, we need to rethink media.

A part of the responsibility is to be placed on small media outlets like us to provide unbiased information that doesn’t make claims that are inappropriate to the scope of our investigation.

As consumers of news media, we need to know what it means to us to be informed, and not consume media unquestioningly.

The most noteworthy stories unfolding in our times cannot be captured in a soundbyte. Singular events very rarely change history so much as do long term, systemic issues. These so often go unrecognized or underemphasized by news, but deserve investigative attention the most.

For example, instead of an endless news stream solely dedicated to the blunders of our president, it would be more helpful to discuss the factors that led to the general public being indifferent or nihilistic about politics, which many believe was one of the most important factors in his rise to power.

Here, not only do we enter into the realm of meaningful, critical dialogue, but as consumers of media will also perhaps feel less removed from the news. Seeing that the issues are broad and trace their roots back to the everyday actions of individuals, we may come to have a sense that we are a part of it, and that it affects us.

What’s more, we may even begin to have the feeling that we can effect it. Thereby moving into an attitude where we are actively looking for solutions.


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