If you’re a person on planet Earth, then you have heard about Donald Trump. In fact, Donald Trump may be all you ever hear about, along with turmoil in the Middle East, the rise of anti-immigration movements across Europe, North Korean missile tests, something about how Teresa May is bad but Jeremy Corbyn is worse, and now another general election in the UK.
No matter where you go, we are plagued by the news. We are told, especially at university, that staying abreast of current affairs is important. The messages we get are that people who read the news and have an opinion on Article 50 are more intelligent, and tend to come off better at dinner parties. Talk of current affairs is the mark of the educated person.
But is there really any point reading the news?
For starters, a lot of it is extremely depressing, and beyond our control. While we like to feel that the news empowers us to change the world or be better engaged citizens, many of us will do little more than click ‘share’. The fact we know what is going on in the world doesn’t stop wars, and doesn’t seem to motivate us to do anything either.
Not only is the news a massive downer in your Facebook feed, but there’s also just so damn much of it. University reading, classes, food shopping, going out (and being hungover), doing some kind of sport, having a social life, watching ’13 Reasons Why’, spontaneous trips to a nearby beer garden, finding time to sleep, and on top of all that we’re expected to be aware of the power struggles in the Labour party leadership?
As Brenda from Bristol said in response to the announcement of June election: “Oh for God’s sake, I can’t honestly stand this, there’s too much politics going on at the moment.” This, I feel, may sum up the general attitude to the news.
Even the people who do news as a job feel overwhelmed. Trevor Noah of the satirical Daily Show recently ran a piece about how there just isn’t enough time for all the news that’s going on, especially when so much of it is so absurd.
Many of us know from experience how the barrage of bad news can get you down. But there’s scientific evidence which also suggests the negative effects of bad news on us personally. As Psychologist Dr Graham Davey told the Huffington Post, “negative news can affect your own personal worries. Viewing negative news means that you’re likely to see your own personal worries as more threatening and severe, and when you do start worrying about them, you’re more likely to find your worry difficult to control and more distressing than it would normally be.”
Even though we are drowning in an ocean of miserable news stories, I am not suggesting that we simply don’t read the news. For one, escaping the news is very difficult. It’s in your news feed, it’s on the cover of the metro, it’s in every conversation you try to have.
For us as students, it is worth reading news related to your degree course. I, for example, study German and Chinese and try to have a vague idea what is going on in Germany and China (elections in the former, government warnings about foreign spies called David in the latter, in case you were wondering). And there are plenty of media outlets specifically for students (such as this one) which are worth following because they are relevant. My point is that not all news is equally relevant to us, so cut out the stuff that doesn’t matter.
And if we care about things that happen in the world and want to change things, then we can treat it as more than just entertainment or polite conversation topic. We can choose to follow specific stories or particular places and raise awareness for things that matter to us, even find causes worth supporting financially.
Despite the fact that I don’t think reading the news changes much or helps anything, I am still going to read up on current affairs. The bottom line is that we have a certain amount of control over which media we consume, and how much of it. We know that over-eating isn’t good for us, and drinking too much is damaging. We should ask the occasional question about our media consumption as well.