Last night, having been off my devices all day and peacefully oblivious to the news, I turned on the TV as I slipped into bed just to catch up. Now, you know and I know that I shouldn’t have done that, but I was feeling out of touch, so I flipped from MSNBC to CNN and Fox to see what was up with the world.
The news was so horrific that it almost seemed like satire. In TV anchor rapid-speak, reporters from around the country and the world told me that: mass graves had been found in and around Mariupol, Ukraine, as Russian forces closed in on the besieged city; wildfires were burning out of control in parts of New Mexico; Israeli and Gaza militants were at war; Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis was punishing Disney for supporting gay rights by removing its tax breaks; new audio had revealed that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy talked trash about then-President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection; Florida was banning math books for alleged inappropriate “prohibited” topics, like race; and — oh, no — Netflix was cracking down on shared accounts.
Sleep was out of the question. In between news segments, just to keep the anxiety level in the stratosphere, commercials from an animal rights group showed bone-thin dogs chained outside in the freezing cold. The voice-over begged for contributions to save these wretched pups. I love dogs more than people, but this commercial feels like an assault, and it doesn’t make me feel like giving more money; it makes me feel like changing the channel.
That was my news experience last evening, which brings me to my question of the day: Walter Cronkite, where are you when we need you?
I am certain that 24-hour news screaming at us from every device we own is detrimental to our health. The American Psychological Association states that “news consumption has a downside … More than half of Americans say the news causes them stress … anxiety, fatigue or sleep loss.”
We were much better off when TV news was broadcast once or twice daily for 15 or 30 minutes. When I was a kid, my parents watched the news at 6 and 11 p.m. For millions of viewers, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite was the voice of reason, truth and journalistic integrity every night during those brief news shows. There were no alternative facts, and “fake news” wasn’t even a blip in the nascent Trump brain.
For those of you too young to remember, in 1962 Cronkite became anchorman of CBS’s newscasts. Think about it: 15 to 30 minutes of news a day on CBS or the other major channel, NBC. That was it.
Cronkite didn’t have coiffed hair or trendy clothes. He made his bones as a war correspondent in World War II, flying with the U.S. Army Air Force in bombing raids over Germany. After the war, he covered the Nuremberg Trials. In 1950 he was recruited by Edward R. Murrow, another broadcast icon, at CBS News. He interviewed President John F. Kennedy to launch the first 30-minute news broadcast in September 1963, and less than three months later, on Nov. 22, he announced the death of the president on live TV. I was 16 years old. I watched, stricken, as Cronkite removed his glasses and struggled to regain his composure.
In the decades since, the news on TV and online has evolved into a circus of both information and misinformation reported by anchors who range from the sublime to the ridiculous to the truly grotesque. TV personalities tell us the news, as it is selected and edited by their researchers and producers. Because the news is now broadcast 24/7, there are thousands of hours of filler and fluff beaming out at us all day and all night long.
What can we do? What agency do we have with this news tsunami coming at us every hour of the day? How to stay informed and still stay sane? We are left to our own devices in more ways than one, and we need to do the most difficult thing, which is to find balance.
We honor the brave correspondents who bring news of the war in Ukraine, and we honor the TV and newspaper reporters whose mission every day is to shine a light in the darkness. We need the news, but we need to calibrate our consumption.
My new rule is no news before bedtime. No “notifications” on my phone. Our devices beam out information and disinformation indiscriminately. Some of it informs, but much of it triggers anxiety. We must know, and we have to teach our children, how to tell the difference.
Copyright 2022 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.