“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 (NIV)
Regardless of our need and sincere desire for unbiased and trustworthy news sources, it’s important to recognize that news is actually an industry. Whether we learn about what’s happening around us – locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally – from daily print or electronic sources, let’s understand that news corporations are driven by the desire to make money. We live in the United States, where the free enterprise system is still the cornerstone of all business. So, the number of readers, listeners, and viewers is crucial to the companies behind the scenes who oversee the production of news, from choosing the stories to crafting the headlines.
And competition is fierce! For example, local TV news, featuring a variety of stories, might be available on 3 or 4 stations, all seeking significant audience share (“the percentage of households with television sets in use or tuned to a particular station during a specific period of time”, https://wordpanda.net). “Hard news” refers to the more serious selection of news stories, including investigative reporting, world events, politics, crime, scientific developments, and economics. “Soft news” focuses on the non-essential and less urgent human-interest stories, such as lifestyle, entertainment, and “people” pieces. Most news programs want to avoid sharing only hard news segments, and interject some soft news to keep viewers tuned in. Sports and weather are major components of their soft news offerings.
But the distribution of the news is changing. The United States is a nation of news junkies, demanding constant access to what’s happening all over the world. For many, the fastest source for today’s news is social media, particularly Google and Twitter, rather than newspapers (considered “yesterday’s news”) or even TV news programming. “Social media has become the main source of news online with more than 2.4 billion internet users, nearly 64.5 percent receive breaking news from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram instead of traditional media.” (www.forbes.com, “How Social Media Has Changed How We Consume News”)
Beyond the increasing speed with which the news “breaks”, we can access our news from anywhere. “News is more portable than ever. In fact, 33% of cell phone owners now access news on their cell phones.” (www.gaebler.com/News-Industry-Statistics.htm)
This “need to know” by the public forces news organizations to produce headlines and feature stories with immediacy, which can sometimes result in misinformation. Occasionally the press gets it wrong, in their attempt to scoop other news sources. Consider this event: “‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ was an incorrect banner headline on the front page of the Chicago Daily Tribune (later Chicago Tribune) on November 3, 1948, the day after incumbent United States President Harry S. Truman won an upset victory over his opponent, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, in the 1948 presidential election. It was famously held up by Truman at a public appearance following his successful election, smiling triumphantly at the error.” (Wikipedia.org)
Because of the instantaneous news now available to us, we can learn of urgent incidents almost in real time. We are drawn to the words, “breaking news”, and are instantly riveted to the TV, radio, or internet to learn what this latest development is. But why do we find breaking news so compelling? The words, “We interrupt this broadcast”, stops us in our tracks. Part of this reaction is based on fear. We need to know we are safe. Realizing something is happening that pushes aside regular television and radio programming immediately grabs our attention.
The news is a justifiable distraction for many people. After all, we reason, it’s critical that we know what’s happening. But Satan is not merely the king of destruction; he’s the king of distraction! Many push aside activities and interactions with family and friends – and perhaps even church – to focus on information that may not even personally affect them. Our priorities get shifted and we can become overwhelmed – perhaps mesmerized – with the world around us, rather than giving our focus to what’s truly important in life.
Consider the most compelling “breaking news” of all time! Three days after Jesus’ crucifixion and burial in a cave, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb… The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.’ So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” (Matthew 28: 1-11 NIV)
So how can we help teens become media-savvy about the culture that surrounds them?
Meaningful conversations with teens need to be honest and heartfelt, not sterile or scripted. Try these discussion starters to motivate critical thinking about the news.
• Share, “There is news that we ‘need to know’ and also news that we ‘want to know’.” Ask, “What types of news stories would fall under the heading, ‘news we need to know’? What kind of stories do you like to know about and why?”
• Share, “Many people get their news from social media, and there are pros and cons.” Ask, “What are some of those?”
• Ask, “Since TV news is a business and the content of the newscasts is shaped by ratings, how can the news producers’ decisions impact our understanding of what’s truly important?”
• Ask, “Do you sometimes get to the point where all the news becomes a blur and you come away thinking, ‘Who cares’?” Discuss this reaction and its consequences.
• Share, “There are many sources of news and information available to us each day. Do you think all of this can desensitize, overwhelm, or distract us from knowing what is actually important and meaningful?” Have teens discuss this idea.
• Share and discuss this 4-minute radio news report on YouTube: “Breaking News: The Arrest and Death of Jesus of Nazareth”, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xt7Ss8lTjA
• Share, “In Jesus’ time, there were no newspapers, social media, or TV news programs.” Ask, “How do you think people learned about what was happening? Think of potential problems this could cause.”
• Start a small group that meets on a regular basis to discuss topics of current interest including the influences of social media, big tech, and politics.
Note: Share this blog with your church’s youth pastor as a lesson for youth group gatherings.
Sue Summers is a Christian media analyst, teacher, author, and speaker. She is the Director of Media Alert!
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