News or Good News? – by Greg Albrecht
Friend and Partner Letter from October 2023
“If some great catastrophe is not announced every morning, we feel a certain void. ‘Nothing in the paper today,’ we sigh.” Paul Valery, French poet, 1871-1945
Long before the advent of cable news, with its 24-hour news cycle – long before our frantic and frenzied culture where “news” is immediately reported (never mind the factual details, because networks and “news” sources want to say “you heard it here first”) Paul Valery commented on the oh-so-human tendency to love hearing and reading the horrifying and the sensational.
“If it bleeds, it leads” was popularized a little more than a century ago by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and has been the mantra of newsrooms for many decades now. “If it bleeds, it leads” panders to and produces fear-based media reporting – reporting that initially arrests the attention of the viewer or reader and then seduces them into becoming a captive to the kind of stories it tells and the one-sided perspective the “news” source offers.
“News” is a money-making industry, in which truth and facts receive less importance and priority, because what sells is of utmost importance. Thus, watching the “news” on cable television can be a risky pursuit, undermining physical, emotional and spiritual health. Unwittingly, people are being used and made merchandise of in order to serve those who profit from the enterprise of “news.” Watching the “news” on cable television can become an additive drug, which is exactly what the networks are selling. “News” has become the drug of choice for millions of “informed” North Americans.
“If it bleeds, it leads” actually leads to dehumanizing results. Gruesome and appalling stories can cause viewers and readers to become desensitized, hardening them to suffering and heartache. The German word schadenfreude describes the sickening emotional response of enjoying the suffering of others who are not on the same “team” or “side” or who represent a different race or culture or nationality. In our time the way in which our media “reports” what is generically called “news” can lead to schadenfreude.
“If it bleeds, it leads” reduces the human capacity for empathy and compassion, and dulls or even deadens love and mercy. Fear-based “news” preys on our anxieties and then holds us hostage. It is in the best interests of the “news” business to keep readers and viewers in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear! Not that long ago news reporting involved factual, well-researched accounts of what happened, with commentary that was fair, balanced and grounded by integrity. Journalists were taught to present both sides of a story, but today, in many cases, one side and one side alone is presented to readers and viewers who read and listen because they desire to hear their biases and prejudices confirmed.
The devious practices of “newspapers” sold at the check-out stands of grocery stores have now swamped and overcome the conventional news media at large, because stories that shock and startle drive ratings. Salacious tales (they often contain fiction and fable) that arouse and provoke sell, while careful accounts filled with as much objectivity as possible are ignored and passed over.
Fear-based media is now such a staple of our culture so that, as Paul Valery said, for many, if a day passes during which they do not read, see or hear of a catastrophe or electrifying story of some kind, they feel a certain void. Fear-based media fills us with junk food for the soul.
Never forget! There’s always political and religious advantage that is wrung out of old and new fears. Many seize power and advantage and maintain it on the premise that people at large need someone to hate, someone to condemn and someone to blame for all the unfairness, injustice and misery that faces them every day. The power brokers of politics, the economy and religion produce a scapegoat for the masses to hate, never mind if the scapegoat if real or imagined. Don’t fall for their dirty, manipulative tricks! Instead:
“Cast all your anxiety upon him for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Our prayer to our heavenly Father is for our daily bread, not our daily dread! (Matthew 6:11)
Here are three Christ-focused and Christ-centered steps you might ponder, when it comes to your exposure and addiction to what masquerades as “news” in our world today” –
- Consider limiting your exposure to “news” media.
“News junkies” can find themselves in a negative state of mind, depressed about the future, and overly worried about things about which they have no control.
Am I advising that we “hide our necks in the sand” and pretend that this world is not one completely mixed-up place? No, not at all. But I am suggesting that we are what we eat, spiritually and emotionally, and junk food “news” doesn’t make for a healthy person.
When we stop and ponder our world, and stop listening to and believing those who influence and make merchandise of us, we discover the world keeps on going, even without our stewing and fretting. We cannot stop the world, but we can remove ourselves from the merry-go-round, the hamster wheel that goes nowhere fast.
We can gain perspective and realize the world will keep on doing what it is doing, with or without our worry and anxiety, and conclude we cannot change this sad old world. We can give thanks that God, in his wisdom and love, will fix this world which so desperately needs changing. He will bind up the wounds and heal the grief-stricken broken hearts.
- Consider exposing yourself to media to which you normally don’t gravitate.
It’s always beneficial to look at the world through fresh eyes – thought the eyes of people we don’t know much about. When I first arrived in England as a young college student, I well remember reading English newspapers and wondering whether they were reporting on the same events that American reporters were! They were, of course, but with a slightly different perspective.
- Consider having a media-free day or two, or maybe even a week.
After you live without the “news” for a little while, evaluate how you feel, without the “fix” of catastrophes, hyperbole and disasters. When you engage in a “news fast” you may more deeply experience another world that you missed, one that is filled with courage, love, grace and GOOD NEWS! Prove, if to no one other than yourself, that you are not addicted to the “news.”
Briefly stated, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that there is an alternative way of life that stands in complete contrast and opposition to the dominant way of life normally chosen by humans.
On the one side, the “news” reports on the kingdoms of government, religion, economic and military power. These kingdoms rise and fall, they are temporary, and in order to remain on top of the heap, they operate on greed, hatred, fear, violence and control. These temporary kingdoms of news and social media cycle through recurring themes of war, protest, injustice, crime, and enlightened causes in a frenzied dance of revenge and retribution, shame and intimidation, enslavement and deception, lies and propaganda – all in order to achieve their ends.
On the other side, the GOOD NEWS is an eternal kingdom characterized by God’s love, grace, mercy, justice and peace. The eternal kingdom of God is about forgiveness and retribution and non-violence loving of everyone, including one’s enemies. Jesus offers us his rest and the peace of God – he has no interest in keeping us in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear! Jesus, the king of the kingdom of God, is an entirely different kind of king who serves those who follow him rather than demanding their service. The GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ offers us a way to be loved and accepted and saved from a life of fear, oppression and shaming.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen in temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Our world is desperate for some eternal GOOD NEWS. Our temporal world is sliding deeper and deeper into fear, hatred, recrimination and contempt. Those who live on the margins are increasing in numbers, they are overwhelmed with sickness and grief, with loss and heartache, with poverty and addictions.
We thank God that he has allowed up and empowered us, as Friends and Partners of CWR and PTM, as team mates and fellow workers, to bring the uplifting and positive message of hope and inspiration to our world – the gospel message of GOOD NEWS. We tell the story of GOOD NEWS. We share GOOD NEWS with the world. The GOOD NEWS is so desperately needed by a world overwhelmed with hatred, misery, violence, suffering, heartache, oppression and addiction.
In the midst of the darkness of our world, by the grace of God, we are enabled, with all of you as our collective Friends and Partners, to reflect the Light of Jesus Christ – to point toward the One who personifies GOOD NEWS! Thank you for the part you play in our ongoing worldwide work.
Your fellow servant and co-worker in Christ,