Why Society Needs Critical Media Consumers


Sep 19, 2014 by Smart Blog

The media is a powerful element in western society. When something important happens it is the internet that people turn to, news websites they consult and videos that they watch in the search for information and understanding. The news is now available 24/7, constantly updated and responsive. However, is that necessarily a good thing?



As the pace of news media grows ever more hectic, psychologists are asking people to stop and consider how the news makes them feel. Why? In short, because a constant diet of news media is making people feel bad. They feel frightened, angry and distressed as a result of being constantly bombarded with upsetting stories and images.

Furthermore, people's world-view and ability to assess situations rationally is suffering - in part, experts say, because of the way in which the media presents news stories, particular the way it prioritises the sensational and extraordinary.

It was not always like this. Before 24-hour news, most people got their information about events from a single daily news programme on the television or radio, or from a printed newspaper. Shocking and tragic events still happened, at least as often as they do now, but coverage was not available on tap, and the volume and diversity of information sources was nowhere near as large.

The fact that the news media tends to favour the more shocking and distressing stories and prioritises them means that consumers see a balance of events that does not reflect reality at all. This can be highly dangerous, not merely because it upsets people to a disproportionate extent, but also because it can lead to people making political, personal or professional decisions based on completely unrepresentative or untrue information.


Critical Thought

The problem, some have suggested, is that people regard 'the internet' as a single news source, without acknowledging that the content comes from a huge range of sources. As a result, there is a tendency for consumers to restrict their media consumption to those whose point of view reflects their own, or confirms an apparently 'majority' view. Few seem to ask themselves where the media they are consuming comes from, who has written it and what their purpose is.

In other words, the consumption of an ever-increasing media without critical thought is leading to distress, a failure to understand the world and thus a failure to engage with it in helpful ways. For example, if an individual consumes an emotive media piece about the horrors of poverty, but does not also read about the success of anti-poverty initiatives, he or she may feel that there is nothing they can do to help and merely feel bad about the situation. The truth, however, is that anti-poverty initiatives have massively reduced world poverty, but without continuing action and public support, this will stop.

So, what is the solution? According to many, including top journalists, the key lies in critical thought and a balanced consumption of a range of media views. A 'news diet' of sorts. If more consumers can develop these habits, then 24-hour news could become of genuine benefit to society, rather than a potential drain upon it.