Confessions of a News Junkie

March 24, 2008 | 24 comments
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Sunday morning. Clicked off This Week with George Stephanopoulos just a couple of minutes after clicking it on. Feeling especially weary of the twenty-four hour news cycle for some reason today… the relentless intensity, the insatiable talking-heads, and a seemingly never-ending electoral season. Instead, I hunker down to prepare a lesson on the Atonement for Sunday School. After losing myself in thoughts of the Savior, I’m reminded of a meditation I stumbled across recently:

Scripture is the most important tradition that man can have, and yet how few people make use of it. Instead they read the news. The news is what will be old tomorrow and without interest. Yet it becomes a narcotic that must be taken daily and that yields no lasting satisfaction but only another craving. ‘Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.’ (John 4:13-14.) The words of Christ and his prophets are lifegiving. They alone can give all other words real meaning. I can easily convince myself that I have no time to study scripture. But the truth remains: I do what I choose to do; I neglect what I choose to neglect. How often is there time for sitting before the glassy face of the electric idol?” (Dennis Rasmussen, The Lord’s Question: A Call to Come unto Him, pgs. 31-32).

Too often, unfortunately. And as I savor the waters of eternal life on a beautiful Easter morning, I wonder why I let myself get so parched when there’s no reason I should ever have to thirst.

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24 Responses to Confessions of a News Junkie

  1. Chris on March 25, 2008 at 2:12 am

    A number of writers, including Andrew Walls and Euan Cameron, have suggested that adaptability is the very nature of the Gospel; that it is constantly being “translated” for particular times and places. If this is true, then it would seem that the gospel for our age can only emerge in dialogue between the scriptures and the news. Whether you buy that or not, surely you’d agree that the gospel has something to say to our current circumstances and calls us to an awareness of a cosmic narrative that gets played out in large part on the pages of the newspapers. I think it’s sheer folly to suggest that the gospel calls us to bury our heads in an ancient book to the exclusion of an awareness of our times.

    I realize that’s probably not what you’re saying. But I just want to swing the pendulum back a bit in the other direction. Best,

    -Chris

  2. Chance on March 25, 2008 at 3:06 am

    How often is “the news” actually “THE news”? Call me cynical, but most of what I have read lately (and I’m sure the upcoming election is not helping) is gossip, spin, and opinion. Who cares why Barry is now Barack, or that NY’s new governor did drugs on the 70s or that someone on Hillary’s staff got a DUI. Does any of that really matter?

    Marc, I too on Sunday realized that I have been drinking a little too often from the lifeless waters when I jokingly said I never read my scriptures. My joke was met with a deafening silence as I realized that I have allowed myself to fall off the wagon. I began to take stock of my daily routine, and what do I have to blame for my neglect? My apparent need to check my email, the news, the score, the weather, etc. How much time do I waste on petty things all in the name of staying informed?

    I’ve felt horrible about it for the past 24 hours, and your post and quote have somehow brought me some comfort. You wanna join a 12 step together?

  3. tiara on March 25, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Hey, I’d come out of the woodwork to sit in that circle, too.

  4. Stephanie on March 25, 2008 at 9:06 am

    Thanks – this post is a great reminder to spend my time where it matters (I am an avid news junkie). I think it is interesting, though, that as I seriously study the scriptures, I learn so much more about what is happening in the world around me than I do by faithfully watching the news. Maybe not the details of sordid events, but an understanding of the context in which things are happening.

  5. Marc Bohn on March 25, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Chris – As you gathered, the point of my post wasn’t to criticize awareness, but to put things in perspective. My problem isn’t typically isn’t staying on top of world events, it’s doing so at the exclusion of things like more consistent and meaningful scripture study and reflection. The truth is news does get stale. I’ll often bookmark articles to read and days later will have no interest in reading them anymore (or I’ll skim them over and wonder why I thought they were interesting in the first place). It’s important to know what’s going on, but when I manage to get in a meaty and satisfying scriptural study session I sure feel a whole lot more replenished than if I spend an hour or two scouring the news.

  6. Marc Bohn on March 25, 2008 at 9:21 am

    Chance – I’m with you on the superficiality of much of today’s news coverage, and I’m all about the 12-step program. Think it’ll break me of my news addiction?

  7. Jonovitch on March 25, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    I’ll be right there with you in that 12-step group. I think our syllabus should consist of the excellent Addiction Recovery Program manual from LDS Family Services and the April 2001 General Conference talk from Dallin Oaks: “Focus and Priorities.”

    His talk hit me like a ton of bricks back then (I was in attendance in the upper balcony of the new Conference Center). It remains a classic talk in my mind, and has only gained in relevance in the years since then.

    I’m with you, Brother! (And Sister.)

    Jon

  8. Chris on March 25, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Marc,

    As a biblical studies major, I can attest that scripture can get stale too!

    -Chris

  9. Jonovitch on March 25, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    I’m also reminded of our Sunday School lesson last week. “Feasting on the words of Christ.”

    Every lesson I’ve attended has focused on the first half of that phrase: feasting, rather than nibbling or grazing or snacking. But toward the end of class, I started thinking about the second half of that phrase (partially in reaction to the recent discussions here on rumors and “inspiring” stories).

    I shared my thoughts that we need to focus on the second half, too — that we should be feasting on *the words of Christ* and not on the fluffy irrelevant stuff. On our table, we have the spiral-cut honey-glazed ham, and the funeral potatoes, and the fresh green-bean casserole, and the fresh fruit salad, and the cheesey broccoli and the sparkling grape juice all at our fingertips. So why do we instead reach for the Kool-Aid and Twinkies? Those will never satisfy! We will starve ourselves first, while making us fat.

    To quote my favorite line from (the original) Star Wars series — Luke asks, “Is the Dark Side stronger?” and Yoda replies, “Quicker, easier, more seductive.”

    Indeed, George Stephanopolous does have a way of sucking you in and not letting go. I am quite partial to ABC’s news department. But I find that NPR seems to have the most relevant information, the most honest context, and the most reliable analysis. They lack the commercials, the flair, the “show” of TV and internet news — probably because of the inherent lack of visuals in their main channel: the radio. I think listening to the evening news on NPR during the drive home is enough to give me the awareness and context I need that Chris mentioned in the first comment.

    So I guess I’m saying that we can leave the Twinkies alone (e.g., cnn.com — “online, all the time!”) and instead feast regularly (on the words of Christ), but not be so isolated as to never indulge in a little chocolate peanut-butter egg (e.g., NPR drive-time news) every evening. :)

    Jon

  10. Kaimi Wenger on March 25, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    Great post, Marc. I’ll check the comments, too, after I skim Drudge. There’s a link to “CBS EXPOSES HILLARY BOSNIA TRIP” that I need to check out before it gets stale.

  11. Aaron on March 25, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    When I lived in DC I felt like I HAD to listen to talk radio and watch political commentary shows so I could be “in the know” at the office. (this is not a critique of DC) Then one day I just got tired of people telling me what was important, pushing their perspective on me, and making my blood boil. “News” stations don’t report news anymore – they report their angle on the news. The next day I popped in a music CD on the way to work and I’ve been much happier ever since.

    It also began to bother me that in this vast “marketplace of ideas” that we have in America I would gravitate towards “news” that reinforced my views/beliefs – and perhaps made me more narrowminded in the process.

  12. Mark M on March 25, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    #9 Jon,

    While I do like some of NPR, I tire of the “essay voice” that seems to be the required method of reading an opinion piece. I’m not sure what word(s) to use to describe it… possible candidates may be “aloof”, “duo-tone” (i.e. not quite as bad as monotone), etc. What is your opinion of the NPR reading style, and have you a suggestion for improving it?

    Playing jazz music behind the financial report is a refreshing touch, I must admit!

  13. rachel on March 25, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    So where do you find real news? I\’ve been wondering this . . .

  14. Mark M on March 25, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    How about a 12-step Bloggernacle program???

  15. Kevinf on March 25, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Many years ago, I was a journalism student in college, but never actually took a job there. I’ve been in high tech ever since college (not sure why that happened, or what the connection is), but have remained a news junkie, and fascinated by the news process.

    Some of the things I learned, though, have direct gospel application. For example, getting your news from more than one source, so you have a way of checking that you are not being gamed, so to speak, is the equivalent of the law of witnesses. In news they call this the gatekeeper concept, and it’s more of a problem now than in the past. For example, Rupert Murdoch owns Fox News and also owns many newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, so watching Fox News and reading the WSJ may not really give you two different sources of news for fact checking.

    All of this is about getting to a place where the scriptures can provide an alternative “channel” or perspective on life. It’s important to know what’s going on in the world, but equally, if not more, important to know a more eternal and less time-dependent viewpoint that the scriptures can provide.

    The scriptures lend themselves to both reading, an equivalent to watching CNN Headline News, but also to more detailed, in depth study, which I compare to NPR’s drive-time news shows or what 60 Minutes used to be, and occasionally still is.

    But I can’t live in this world effectively without either the news or the scriptures (or other religous texts or commentaries), so the trick is in balancing. Maybe a little less time watching the Daily Show and Colbert Report, and more time with the Book of Mormon. Parity is not that hard, but I’m often not looking for it.

  16. Jonovitch on March 25, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Oh! I forgot my two favorite sources of news! Thanks Kevinf (15) for reminding me. (No, not Fox — come on, people, really!) I remember a study not too long ago that pointed out that the amount of actual news content on your local evening news and on Stewart and Colbert were about the same. Now that’s comedy.

    Also, I can’t believe I forgot about the single best source of news coverage I have ever encountered: PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer. The first few minutes alone (the major stories of the day) will give you more real content (and virtually devoid of any spin) than the other networks could ever hope to provide. Some of the deeper analysis pieces later on in the show can drag on, but man, if that ain’t straight news! I love it. Jim Lehrer is my news-hero.

    Mark M (12) I usually tune out the opinion pieces on NPR, especially the kind that run a lot on Saturdays. The voicing can really get to me, too — and I did a short stint hosting music at KBYU-FM. (My dream job, fulfilled.) Also, the opinion pieces tend to be quite a bit more left of center than I’m comfortable with (is this me saying that?! and yet, it’s true).

    Still, NPR news — the real stuff — is great for the drive home, and Marketplace Money can’t be beat for financial analysis. On TV, Jim Lehrer and the PBS crew win hands down. I also enjoy Frontline on Tuesday nights — perhaps a bit sadistically at times. I can’t get enough of the low ominous voice slowly grilling the Bush/Cheney/Rove/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz machine and other nefarious subjects. It’s sooooo creepy-good.

    Jon

  17. Marc Bohn on March 26, 2008 at 2:09 am

    Jonovitch – There are echoes of these themes in Oaks’ “Good, Better, Best” talk from this past Conference as well.

    Chris – Touche

    Kaimi – So old Kaimi… big news now is that she’s “human” too

    Rachel – When drinking of that water which leaves me thirsty, I typically visit a bunch of outlets. I think the Washington Post has pretty much become the country’s paper of record, I also like PBS, NPR, CSPAN, a few select cable news shows. I get most of my news online these days though and there are a slew of good internet sites/bloggers, including, among others, NBC’s First Read, the National Journal, RealClearPolitics, the Politico, and the Atlantic Monthly. And… for political gossip/breaking stories, I gotta’ hit Drudge and Huffington. I think I’m only underscoring my need for that 12-Step program here though. The past few days I’ve tried to set time restrictions for myself online while upping the time I spend reading scriptures every day… it’s been a bit of a struggle. Old habits die hard.

  18. Jonovitch on March 26, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Marc (17), of course! Oaks’ “Good, Better, Best” is another classic in my mind. Exactly what I needed to hear and I enjoyed it thoroughly (he seems to have had a few of these lately). I’ll add it to our syllabus. “Hi, my name is Jon, and I’m addicted to the Internet.”

    Also, I agree with you on the Washington Post. I find myself enjoying their news more and more (online), in addition to PBS on TV, and NPR on the radio.

    For the record, I spent about 10 minutes this morning reading the Book of Mormon (on paper) — the Isaiah chapters, no less. It’s a start.

    Jon

  19. Mark M on March 26, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Jon, thanks for sharing #16. I was wondering if my occasional voicing annoyance was just me, or the actual voicing.

  20. Chris on March 26, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    I’m a big fan of Charlie Rose.

  21. Raymond Takashi Swenson on March 26, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    The availability of satellite radio and satellite TV and the internet has destroyed my viewing of any of the network news shows. If there is anything really urgent (9/11 attacks, presidential assassinations, hurricanes) I can get it during my drive to and from work on satellite radio.

    There is a lot of “news” that boils down to just another kind of “reality” TV: crime and stupid people doing things to themselves and others (e.g. Britney Spears). I look forward to getting a Tivo so I can fast forward through these shows.

    The kind of “news” my wife and I enjoy are programs that go into depth about history and science, and sometimes religion. Half an hour of conclusory statements that simply reinforce liberal prejudices (or more rarely, conservative ones) are felt as a waste of time. And those are the kinds of books I read, too. The one time I got a Nielsen survey booklet, it was filled with Science Channel and History Channel citations.

    I have found nice counterprogramming on BYUTV, the satellite channel. Here in the Mountain Time Zone, from 7 to 8 AM I can watch two half hour episodes of the BYU religion faculty discussing one of the standard works, with much more depth than the Sunday School lessons I teach in 30 minutes each week. I enjoy seeing the faces of people whose articles and books I’ve read over the years, and getting additional insight as they talk about what the original Hebrew and Greek mean, and how a passage connects to another that is not one we typically think of. BYUTV has a nice search and download feature, so you can watch and listen to Terryl Givens discuss the Book of Mormon at the convenience of your computer. I anticipate that someday everything that is not a live sports show or comet hitting the earth will be in that time-adjustable format, with a feature equivalent to commenting on a written internet news, with the ability to flag comments from people whose thinking we like to hear/read. We’ve been promised an independent, intelligent search agent that will be able to scan through the entire internet (saving us the time) and assemble our personal preferred nightly news show, activated when we want, and viewable/listenable over our cell phones as well as TVs and computers, so we can insert it into the interstices of our day, such as our commutes. Add in reading software that can convert any written file into an audio one, and we can have access to anything on lds.org or even timesandseasons.org.

  22. sscenter on March 26, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    I am reminded of an incident I had just before my mission. I was so wrapped up in what was going on in the political/sports/entertainment/music world and I wondered (with incredible narcissism) how any of these entities would survive without my constant attention. Only after returning from my mission and realizing that not only did everything move on without me but how much I enjoyed not worrying about any of that stuff did I realize the silliness of that worry.

  23. CS Eric on March 27, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    On a really slow news day, there is no better aggregator than Fark. News and commentary, with more than a little snark on the side.

  24. Ross Geddes on March 29, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Thanks for drawing attention to Dennis Rasmussen’s “The Lord’s Question”. It’s a favourite of mine, one of the best Mormon meditation books I’ve read. It’s beautifully written and is worth reading more than once. I highly recommend it.

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