The news, with a little discernment

Published 10:35 pm Friday, June 23, 2017

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

One of the biggest changes in my lifetime has been in television news.

Yes, I’m old enough to remember when the news was not on 24/7. We had the three major networks, and the centerpiece of the news was the 30-minute weeknight broadcast.

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Only during major crisis events did the news stay on round-the-clock. Now the news stays on round-the-clock every day, and this means that many events that are really not a crisis are treated like a crisis.

There several things going on here, none of which are good:

First, the networks have to occupy the time in some way. This will mean repeating stories ad nauseam, or exaggerating stories to make them seem like something that needs to be discussed at length.

This is a problem for the brain cells of viewers and a problem for those who really want the truth.

Second, the networks boost their ratings by featuring people who shock and shout. They have figured out that if they can feature guests who will say controversial things and verbally vomit on others, that they can boost their ratings.

It’s like professional wrestling masquerading as news. Again, this is a problem for both brain cells and truth seeking.

Third, there is now a real problem with sorting through fact and fiction.

A free press has a responsibility to hold those in power to account. If our government officials are engaged in something wrong or unethical, we need to know about it.

But since President Trump has been in office, the press presents the public with a “crisis” almost daily, sometimes multiple times per day.

Here’s the problem with that: If everything is presented as a Watergate-level crisis, nothing stands out.

I once knew a person who had the job of writing letters for his organization. Almost every one of his sentences ended in an exclamation point. If every sentence is an exclamation point, how does any one sentence stand out?

Here’s another example. I was once in a seminary preaching class. There was one student who spoke in a loud voice through his whole sermon. My professor gently pointed out to him that if he didn’t vary his tone, nothing would stand out.

That’s how it is with news. If every story is presented as a big deal or crisis, how do we know if something really is a big deal?

Here are some suggestions for your news intake:

First, when a story breaks, wait until things “shake out” before drawing conclusions.

Second, don’t waste your time sitting there watching talking heads repeat themselves and shout all day. Limit your time watching television news or cruising the Internet and social media for news.

Third, read with discernment. If someone seems like they are out to shock you or manipulate your emotions, tune them out. Read people who seem to be speaking in a measured way and appear to have done their homework. If a story is based on anonymous sources, be skeptical.

Fourth, don’t just read or listen to people you think will confirm your bias. This puts us in an echo chamber. Furthermore, our own beliefs will be sharpened and strengthened if we will listen to other viewpoints.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.