I’m resting now; turned the TV off. Trying to get over the headache I developed watching two of the cable news shows: MSNBC and CNN.
The problem is there is simply too much to watch, too many little things going on on the screen: the main screen with the anchor or the reporter, the double or smaller screen if one of them is talking to someone, the lower-third screen where they run the headlines about the other stories you supposedly need to know about, but they aren’t covering, and then, if you’re really lucky, you get another lower third screen that gives incoming tweets in teeny, weeny font from people watching who are commenting on one or maybe even two of the other stories.
I’m expected to concentrate on a minimum of three, possibly four different events going on at the same time. By the time I decipher the tweet about the headline, which has nothing to do with the new story the anchor is reading (because he/she has moved on to something else), a new line is scrolling on the bottom, teasing a story that will be coming up, after the commercial break. It’s maddening, exhausting, and headache-inducing. It shouldn’t be this hard for me. I used to be one of those people anchoring the news. But that was years ago, before tweet time.
Maybe I’m hypersensitive about all of this. Maybe the vast majority of people are comfortable with this barrage of information. Maybe it’s possible to retrain my brain to make this less jarring. I try occasionally, but my heart really isn’t in it; and the end result remains the same. I watch; I concentrate; I get a headache.
Part of my problem, I realize, is that I really want to understand the news. I want accuracy, not just speed. I want, dare I say it, context, not just headlines. I want, in other words, what TV news is not designed to deliver.
Not only do I find that often I’m not understanding a story, I don’t understand why the story was chosen to be broadcast in the first place. Why, for instance, am I watching the anchor talk about a new blog on the president’s dog, when the lower third banner is running a headline about home ownership figures being at their lowest in 15 years.? Who made the decision that home ownership was less important than the president’s dog; no, not the dog,…a blog about the president’s dog.
It makes you wonder at the beginning of each news day, when the list of stories is put together from hundreds of sources, who makes the cuts in TV news rooms across the country? Who decides what’s important, or what we don’t need to know about? What are the criteria?
There are countless stories that don’t make it to the screen at all, not even in that lower-third grid. Why don’t we know about them? How do we find out? We could spend our days scouring various web news sites and newspapers, but how realistic is that? So we turn to TV news to be both our news filter and primary source; and the end result is, we don’t even know what we don’t know.
Not only do we not know how the choices are made, but we don’t have any idea who’s making them. Until recently (OK, here I go being an old fuddy-duddy journalist), we could assume that those in charge of those choices had a certain degree of experience and education in the journalism field, that they had the years and knowledge to put the available news stories into contexts and make considered judgments on that basis. That’s how they got their jobs. Now, with those kind of credentials much less valued, the decisions and the decision-makers in those newsrooms are up for grabs.
Perhaps it’s no big deal. We’re certainly being provided with a lot of stuff, a lot of visual bells and whistles to keep us occupied. Perhaps, in the end, it is enough to be entertained, and not worry about what any of it actually means. If that is the case, then all we can do is trust that those deciding what we will see, how often and how much, will take good care of us; because we won’t have enough information to take care of ourselves.