I’m Switching From NBC Nightly News To PBS NewsHour

James Wallace Harris, Thursday, December 3, 2015

I’ve been a faithful follower of NBC Nightly News for decades now. But last night’s report, with the entire show covering the mass shooting in San Bernardino, convinced me I’m not being well informed by my news source. Mass shootings are horrible, but they can’t be the only news. Neither can storms, fires, earthquakes, floods and other natural catastrophes. Nor can crime, war and politics dominate our awareness of what’s going on around the world. The NBC Nightly News has become so obsessed by sensational stories that I feel they are the only news events happening in the world each day.

NBC Nightly News

I learned far more about the San Bernardino shootings this morning by five minutes of reading The New York Times, than the 30 minutes spent watching The NBC Nightly News. Last night’s time was wasted on speculation, or watching police carefully inspect a SUV, shown from a camera above the scene. Sometimes we get the news too fast. Watching it as it happens might be exciting, but it’s often deceptive, and full of incorrect information. Network news gives us a 20 minute summary of world events, but are those stories the best ones to spend my 20 minutes of news watching? I could cover more stories by reading.

I’ve routinely watched The NBC Nightly News because it was slickly produced and I like Lester Holt and the NBC reporters. Last night I was particularly disappointed by not hearing about the climate change summit in Paris. It should be big news if more world leaders met there than anytime ever before in history. What happened in San Bernardino was horrible, and an important news story, but the climate conference deals with the fate of the world. Does NBC assume we’re not interested, or think it’s too subtle for us to understand? Or that mass shooters scare us more than a worldwide universal threat?

For now I’ve deleted The NBC Nightly News from my TiVo and added The PBS NewsHour. In the past I’ve tried to switch to just getting my news online, but for some reason I enjoy how television conveniently packages the news. So I’ll try PBS for a while. In the long run, I might need to give up on television. I’ve always avoided local news because I find it so damn depressing, but I’m wondering if I wouldn’t be better citizen if I took more interest in my own city. Then just read about the rest of the world on the Internet.

This brings up two interesting questions. First, how much time should we spend each day on the news? We all need to be well informed citizens, so how much daily time does staying informed take? Second, which topics are the most important to follow? A surprising amount of reporting are on topics that are forgettable. For example, what do we learn about the world from film clips of forest fires? Quite often NBC spends a nightly ten minutes on forest fires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, but they are so common that all forest fire reports look the same. And why are all the stories about fighting fires. Why not stories about managing forests to prevent fires, or how people rebuild after fires, or where do all the wild animals go in a fire? Political reporting is becoming monotonous too, usually just telling us what stupid thing Donald Trump said today.

When I think about it, I wonder if the news is packaged to pander to a specific psychological addiction in us. It’s become entertainment, not education. I’ve watched PBS NewsHour off and on, but it takes more time to consume. Let’s see if I feel better informed.

Essay #985 – Table of Contents

8 thoughts on “I’m Switching From NBC Nightly News To PBS NewsHour”

  1. CNN is on virtually all day here although I’m not usually watching – more likely tuning it out – lol. But I don’t expect my news from one source. I like the network news but it’s little headline stuff with a bit of fluff. CNN has been non-stop shootings and stuff like that. They were playing anything Donald Duck – er – Trump had to say.

    What I do is keep Google News as my homepage – that way I get to choose what I get caught up on and I can determine how in depth I want to go.

    In the 1950s/’60s the news segment on the networks was about 15 minutes. Then at some point in the ’60s they went to 30 minutes and folks loved it so they tried an hour, but that was too much so they cut back to 30 minutes. Now only PBS has a full hour (and if they cover something in more depth you don’t get the breadth of stories.) And there are the news channels – I won’t watch FOX but CNN has limitations, too – replays of “Breaking News” bug me because it’s not “Breaking” at that point. lol

    So Google News is what it is. I usually spend a couple hours reading stuff from there off and on during the day.

    1. I don’t have cable TV, so I don’t have access to 24-hour news stations. So far I’ve missed all the presidential debates because of that. Being cheap has it’s pluses. My friend Mike is also a big Google News person. I should try it. On my iPhone I use Zite and News360, but for news about things they’d never put on the nightly news. On the web I read the NY Times for more traditional news. For some reason, I like The Guardian.

      1. Google News shows linked headlines for NY Times, The Guardian, NBC, LA Times, Wikipedia, Washington Post, Newsweek, USA Today, Reuters, People, etc. (and so on!) And you can pick topics you want like tech news or your area or books – whatever. Then it has a search for News first but the web next – I love it.

  2. Unfortunately, PBS and NPR have become about as corporate-driven as the commercial networks.

    This comment says what I was thinking about part of your post, re Text vs Video —
    http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2015/12/confessions-of-a-half-assed-ne.html#comment-1985991

    The Guardian is useful as a somewhat less US mainstream viewpoint. Also
    AlJazheera print & video — http://www.aljazeera.com/news/
    The Real News Network — http://therealnews.com/t2/
    In These Times (labor oriented) — http://inthesetimes.com/

    A good place to start thinking about mass media news is Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent”, which you may be familiar with.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Consent:_Noam_Chomsky_and_the_Media

    Book — “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” (1988)
    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12617.Manufacturing_Consent

    Lecture — Noam Chomsky – The Political Economy of the Mass Media – Part 1 HD (1989)

    Documentary — “Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky And The Media” (1992)
    (see download links on right of page)
    https://archive.org/details/dom-25409-manufacturingconsentnoamchomsk

    1. PJ, I really appreciate you taking the time to provide me with all these news sources. I read Charlie Stross’s blog now and then, and I have one book by Chomsky, but I haven’t read it. I’ll study all of this thanks. It looks like you take the news pretty seriously.

      1. I’ve been watching the CNN coverage of the San Bernardino thing. It’s been quite interesting and they’ve done an unusually good job. Last night they covered the hospitals and their role plus emergency perparedness – I’ve never seen that before – They’ve done other aspects of interest this time – not just covered the carnage and the fear-producing horror. (Still – if you want anything else around the world you’d better use other sources – lol)

      2. Actually I’m often woefully uninformed about current events. I don’t watch any broadcast news at all and outside of specific topics, tend to wait until the dust has settled before paying much attention. I get most of my intake after the fact from books, magazines, and more and more from internet blogs and such rather than from “news” outlets. This approach leaves gaps about recent history sometimes, especially about foreign affairs, but causes me less aggravation overall. Besides, trying to stay really well informed these days is much like trying to drink from a firehose.

        I do highly recommend Chomsky’s take on how the media functions. It’s an analysis that’s become more widely accepted than when he first proposed it, but is no less relevant. I was surprised to find that I’ve embedded a video in your comments — it wasn’t on purpose, I only posted a link.

      3. I didn’t know people could embed videos in the comments either, but it’s kind of cool that they can.

        It’s impossible to be up on everything, but the interesting question is how much should we keep up with to be a good citizen, or even just have a practical awareness of reality. Most stuff is forgettable – like the way our brains process daily events. Generally we focus on our personal needs and wants, but since we’re a collective, and we collectively affect the planet, it would seem we’d have some responsibility towards knowing what we’re collectively doing.

        I like to think of myself as an accidental consciousness appearing in a vast reality for no reason and I have a limited time to explore it. I’m a reality watcher, and want to get as big a picture of reality as I can before I die. But there is way more to see than I can even imagine, so it’s hard to know where to spend my time observing.

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