News = Fast Food?

Recently NRC-Next published part of an essay written by Rolf Dobelli (which you can read here), in which the author rather aggressively argues that news is a “toxic form of knowledge” that should be avoided as much as possible. He describes the possible harmful effects news consumption can have on individuals, and recommends some steps one should take in order to minimize or even completely stop consuming news, as he has done so himself. As a result he claims to experience “less dispruption, more time, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more insights”.

“As a result of news, we walk around with the completely wrong risk map in our heads.

– Terrorism is overrated. Chronic stress is underrated.

– The collapse of Lehman Brothers is overrated. Fiscal irresponsibility is underrated.

– Astronauts are overrated. Nurses are underrated.

– Airplane crashes are overrated. Resistance to antibiotics is underrated.”

Rolf Dobelli – Avoid News 2010, p.2

Although Dobelli raises a few very valid points about news consumption that I agree with, such as the suggestion that news is systematically misleading as it never completely accurately represents the real world, I personally do not see a need to completely eliminate news from my daily life. I find his article is more directed towards the public at large, who are for the most part unaware of the mechanisms behind news production and consumption, people who are incapable of taking their news with a grain of salt.

My personal news consumption is ultimately the same every day. The only thing that determines how I get my news is whether I am at my PC or not. If I am not using my PC, I regularly check Twitter on my smartphone for news from various sources such as CNN Breaking News, The Huffington Post, Newspaper Headlines, Wikileaks, and NU.nl for which I also have a separate app. This means checking my phone probably more than once every hour on average. If I am using my PC, I get additional news from a news-feed widget that is part of Google Desktop, which collects headlines from all major Dutch and Belgian newspapers, aside from checking Twitter regularly for links to sites of the aforementioned sources.

It is definitely possible my news consumption has become partly ritualistic, in the sense that it has become a daily routine. Especially if I am travelling through the city with some form of public transport, I have nothing else to do but check my phone for some news. However aside from the ritualistic aspect, I am still genuinely intrigued in new developments in The Netherlands and around the world, ranging from scientific to political developments, but also in entertainment. When relating my content preferences to Prior’s (2005) findings, which state that “Greater choice allows politically interested people to access more information and increase their political knowledge” and “those who prefer nonpolitical content can more easily escape the news and therefore pick up less political information”, I would put myself somewhere in the middle of these two groups, leaning slightly more towards the first. I am interested in political news, but not all my attention goes out to it. I try to balance my news intake between the subject matter I am interested in.

For the second part of this assignment I posted a comment on an article on the NRC-Next website. The article is about the question whether or not tourists on bicycles cause more dangerous situations in city centres. The article answers the question by arguing that tourists know they are clumsy on their bikes, therefore they pay extra attention to their surroundings, making them less dangerous in traffic. In this case my comment supported the main argument of the article in a friendly tone. I did not receive any reply directed at my comment. I think in the case of this particular article, which isn’t about an incredibly serious subject, people will not find a strong urge to openly disagree with anyone who posts something in the lines of the article. In my experience it is far more likely to receive a response if you post a comment that strongly disagrees with the article, which also seems to be the case on the NRC-Next site. The only interaction between people commenting on this particular article turned out to be one person asking a question about accident statistics, which another person answered. Another way to successfully coerce a response in the comments seems to be to reply to one of the comments already posted in a criticising manner, which can often cause further discussion back and forth.

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