David Cain (via Jason Kottke):
The news isn’t interested in creating an accurate sample. They select for what’s 1) unusual, 2) awful, and 3) probably going to be popular. So the idea that you can get a meaningful sense of the “state of the world” by watching the news is absurd.
There is an extraordinary gulf between having a functional understanding of an issue, and the cursory glance you get from the news. If you ever come across a water-cooler conversation on a topic you happen to know a lot about, you see right through the emperor’s clothes. It’s kind of hilarious how willing people are to speak boldly on issues they’ve known about for all of three hours.
It feels good to make cutting remarks and take hard stands, even when we’re wrong, and the news gives us perfect fodder for that. The less you know about an issue, the easier it is to make bold proclamations about it, because at newscast-distance it still looks black and white enough that you can feel certain about what needs to happen next.
This isn’t a condemnation of journalism; it’s a succinct explanation of why watching most television news is ultimately meaningless. That’s not to say that all of it is, or that newspapers are inherently better, or that we should always only be reading multithousand-word investigations. But it isn’t helpful — for your knowledge and your mental health — to be watching the news obsessively.