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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Now for the News

Have you ever noticed how information is presented to us in the media? Or maybe you've considered what information is presented to us in the media?

I'm probably one of those old fashioned types - who consumes a newspaper every day, every page and every section. On Sundays I can spend hours with the newspaper. During the week its often a challenge to get through it before I have to get on with my day. Maybe I'd be considered a news junkie or something. Aside from reading my morning paper, I'm also on-line throughout the day, checking out trade media (financial services and religion) and watching the news blogs and other news sites.

What I think is going on here is that I have an inquisitive mind. I've always wanted to know stuff. I've always been curious about life, the world, God, myself, systems, businesses, industries, etc. I'm a voracious reader and always have several books going on my night stand too. But like most people in today's culture, I find that more and more I'm getting my information from sound bytes on TV, radio and Internet. But as convenient as that is, I find myself a little annoyed at least once a day with what is being fed to me in these ways.

Take talk radio for example. I listen to several of the nationally syndicated shows on AM talk radio. But I have to tell you I am sick of the mouthy bigots who just rant and rave - and rant and rave some more about the same old things. They'll waste inordinate amounts of time going on and on about a simple point. Often what they're saying is senseless, useless and even sometimes pretty ignorant. And for those of you who run talk radio shows, when you become senseless, useless or ignorant ... you've lost me as a listener. Watch how fast I can change the dial.

Then there are the news shows on TV. I'm never quite sure how to take them. I think I've blogged before about the role of sports in the news. It seems that they'll dedicate maybe 20% of the air time to sports. So I find myself wondering if sports represents 20% of the importance of the days events globally. (And I doubt very much that it does!) Of course if there's a "weather event" then that can fill an inordinate amount of broadcast time. Our local network stations here in Dallas can talk on and on about a cold front, a lot of rain, etc. I swear we can see the gleam in the meteorologists eyes when there is a "weather event." It's like their adrenaline rushes and they're so excited to have something exciting to talk about. But again, where does it belong in the overall scheme of things globally that day? I really have to wonder.

One of the more popular ... albeit least useful forms of information being fed to us daily is celebrity gossip. There seem to be several "entertainment news" shows out now. And if you watch them, their just gossip. Half of what they report isn't even factual. It's almost as if the nation has become too lazy (or to cheap) to read the National Enquirer and those other trashy tabloids. And sometimes it spills over into the mainstream media. This week, for example, I've been intrigued to see how many people care about what's going to happen with Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. And yet again, I find myself wondering how much that really matters so much in the face of all the other happenings in the world this week.

So here's the thing. It occurs to me that information for information's sake doesn't really have much value. It seems to be a pretty long walk for information to get to value. Even if there are catastrophic events, why did CNN need to fly Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta to Haiti today to hold microphones under collapsed buildings so we could hear the screams of the people trapped under them? I mean, what is the value of our having that knowledge or that experience?

I know, you'll tell me that it sells and gives them ratings. The news media are simply bringing people what they want. But is that really the news then? Maybe its the ignorance versus the informed. And why does that stuff sell? Why are the ratings higher when there is any kind of drama in the news? Do the consumers of the news not care about the quality of the information they're consuming? Why does anyone want to know how many people are following Oprah on Twitter?

I believe there's a process that things go through. It's systemic too. Things happen --- and that creates data points. But those data points need to grow up and become relevant information. You know, they have to become referenceable, for example. Then the information has to become knowledge. The knowledge needs to become wisdom. Finally, the wisdom must somehow mature into value. And there is the great challenge. It seems to also be where most news reporting falls apart. They take data points and make the assumption that information people of these data points is value. Folks, it really isn't.

Perhaps we would do well to ask the proverbial Christian question, "What would Jesus do? (WWJD?)" Seriously. If Jesus were in charge of ABC News, what do you think He would want the show to be about? What news would He have reported? How would Jesus report the news? Do you suppose things would have been different if Jesus had been a news journalist instead of a carpenter?

I said earlier that I'm a voracious reader and a big consumer of information. The sources and options for getting informed seem to have exploded in my lifetime. Simultaneously, we seem to have slid down a slippery slope far and away from value in this department. While more and more places are spewing news and information from more and more media outlets --- what they're spewing at us is becoming less and less useful or relevant.

And while it seems that everyone is focused on what they refer to as "fair and unbiased" news reporting, that is simply them trying to tell us what matters. Meanwhile, it continues to get harder to take the information I consume and convert it to wisdom and value. Why do you think that is? How could we reverse this trend?

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