I know that sounds outrageous, especially coming from a news junkie who probably watches at least an hour of cable news each night. And during a mega news story like the 9.0 earthquake, tsunami and resulting crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant, people flock to the cable news stations to make sure they don’t miss a beat. I’m no different.
Why do we do it? Because on the surface, cable news makes us feel like we’re plugged in. I spent entirely too much time during the dual crises with CNN, watching anchors ask the resident experts the same questions, getting the same answers, hour after hour. As far as real news goes? Not so much. The reporters in Lybia were holed up in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, barred by government guards from leaving. So the truth is that while they were “on the scene,” they were mostly hanging around talking to each other, isolated from the events around them. About the closest thing to real reporting was an occasional shot out the window of tracer fire. After a while, we began getting some reports from reporters behind rebel lines. But in terms of hard information, they didn’t seem to be coming up with much.
Things in Japan weren’t much better. The reporters weren’t locked up in a hotel, but because of the radiation danger, they were pretty much stuck in Tokyo, where they couldn’t really see or hear anything.
In both cases — in Lybia and Japan — the reporters did the same thing the rest of us did: Wait around for official announcements, which tended to come once or twice a day. Which means that in terms of staying informed, you could save a lot of time if you just checked in now and then.
It puzzles me that we want to be so plugged in just as our culture has developed a distaste for auditory and real-time communications otherwise. More and more people refuse to accept phone calls, and it’s becoming a common courtesy to email first to ask, “do you mind if I call?” Most of us hate listening to voice mail, and in some circles it’s now considered impolite to leave one. Instead, we’d rather have an email or text message (which amount to the same thing since most of us can get email on our phones these days). In short, we’ve discovered that we can read a lot faster than we can listen. Reading a text message (especially when you can call back with a single click on the number) is much faster. That’s why services that transcribe voice mail to text — though often horribly inaccurate — have grown dramatically. Vonage, which has been charging extra for voice-to-text, sent customers word this week that the VOIP company will now provide it at no extra charge.
Reading is faster and more efficient.
And that’s especially true for news. When I’m watching CNN, I have to wait through commercial breaks, teasers, promotions and other stuff to get to the actual news. When it comes on, I find that I’m watching for the umpteenth time while CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta shows the gadget that measures how much radiation he’s getting. Meanwhile, actual announcements are few and far between.
Fortunately for the networks — but unfortunately for us — rumors continue to fly nonstop. Before we got addicted to nonstop cable coverage, most of these rumors never saw the light of day, because they could be checked out and dismissed with a phone call or two. But when the camera’s always on, you simply throw it all out there — rumors, uninformed opinions and other silliness. So we end up wasting the time only to be misinformed.
My suggestion? Read it instead. Check a couple of times a day if you’re obsessed, but there’s little value to anything beyond that. Any good international organization — such as Reuters, Associated Press or even CNN’s web site — can tell you what you need to know in a couple of minutes.
There. I just saved you a couple of hours. Go do something useful with them.