A model to keep you from being manipulated by the media

May 10, 2013 by Joshua
in Awareness, Exercises, Models

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Does reading or watching the news enrage you? Does it depress you? Make you feel outraged or helpless or scared?

As much as the news media presents itself as something you need to participate as a citizen in society, they always have at least this goal: to sell more ads. They can separate the news from the business section all they want, but everyone knows what sells. Walk into any newsroom and they’ll tell you they have to make an emotional connection. And we know emotions mean motivation.

They want to motivate you to read and watch more.

How do you get people to read and watch more? With the emotions that motivate that — not happiness, calmness, and comfort, I can tell you that. With the emotions like I listed above — outrage, indignation, fear, and so on.

Yes, the media fills an important need exposing problems that would fester otherwise. I value it. But I recognize it always has that one goal. In a competitive environment, those who don’t will lose to those that do and go bankrupt.

A model not to be manipulated by the media: The media wants to keep you reading and seeing their ads.

I had to try this belief out to get it. Some book suggested not following the news for thirty days. The suggestion almost shocked me. How could a responsible citizen not follow the news? I should know the important things happening in the world.

But I tried anyway. I know I tried it in the spring of 2008 because of how powerfully the effect hit me. When I stopped following the news daily the main stories were about the race between Obama and Clinton, specifically who carried which states. A month later when I restarted following the news, the names of the states changed, but the stories were the same.

The candidates policies hadn’t changed. Nothing important changed. But the media presented it like huge things were happening. They want to create controversy and drama. I realized that the media always had that motivation to keep you hooked. I had long known it, but it hit me more when I saw how little the stories changed amid their claims of huge, breaking news.

And I don’t mean just the politicized, polarized cable channels. All news.

But that wasn’t my biggest awakening. That came when I went to a friend’s party with a bunch of politically aware people. I mentioned my experiment and how surprised I was at the results, expecting them to find the story interesting.

Their response surprised me.

They not only didn’t care about my experience, they couldn’t fathom someone would consider not following the news daily. They just about accused me of being irresponsible as a citizen. Needless to say, they didn’t care to hear my experiences and conclusion.

In other words, they sounded addicted. I was convinced. The media wants to addict you to the media.

Yes, I consider knowing some things about the world important, but I recognize the media will polarize and dramatize things to hook people. They will cover things that evoke outrage, shock, horror, and such over mundane things. Is shocking more important than mundane? It’s not obvious to me that covering a school shooting is more important than covering students getting straight As.

Besides, with seven billion people in the world, anything you learn about some you’re not learning about others. You can never learn everything about the world. You mostly learn the most gripping things, which we’ve come to consider the most important, but you don’t have to agree on someone else’s evaluation of importance.

Which is more important, war or peace? Which gets more news coverage? Which makes the history books?

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I find myself hooked on the news. Also when I’m away from the news and wonder if I’m missing anything.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the addicting belief that following the news is always good, necessary, or both with skepticism.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to having more free time during the day and more freedom with your thoughts.

It leads to you reevaluating what you consider important and historical.

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