Commentary: News overkill

By David Watts Barton, Sacramento News and Review, December 4, 2008

Honestly, though I still have my subscription to The Sacramento Bee, sometimes I wonder why. I mean, look at some headlines in a recent edition: “Gas decline fails to rev up economy”; “Deadly peril poised over Yosemite cabins”; “Vets’ health complaints supported in new study”; “Wildfires highlight lack of mobile home insurance”; “Budget crisis forcing CSU system to cut enrollment”; “Al-Malaki fires corruption fighters”; “Taliban reject offer of peace talks”; and etc.

There’s an encouraging one—“Retired brass urge end to ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’” and, just for fun, “Some folks can’t stand new urinal”—but by and large, am I too sensitive, or does reading the morning paper make you want to go back to bed, too?

It’s not just the Bee, it’s “the news.” The news is bad. In print, online, daily, weekly, hourly, a steady diet of bad stuff is getting me down. And yet I keep on reading and watching, first thing in the morning, last thing at night. What’s up with that? Is it an addiction?

Or is it just the price of being a part of a community, local and global? I didn’t know that Steve Rex, an old friend and important Midtown fixture as owner of Rex Cycles, had been in a bad bike crash. I’m glad to know that, even though it’s bad news. Being connected isn’t always fun.

But sometimes, it’s just no fun at all. I blame the election, which sorta burned me out. As it raged, I couldn’t stop reading, watching, surfing—and yet the result was what it was. It was glorious, don’t get me wrong—but I coulda just waited until Election Day and then enjoyed it, instead of freaking myself out with daily worry about which way it was going to go.

But still I watch. So, what good comes out of following the news? I ask this as someone who still purveys it, one of the few who’ve left the Bee and still can call himself a journalist. What good is it doing?

Right now, I’m obsessed with the economy. But who isn’t? As someone who no longer has a steady paycheck, it feels more personal than ever before, but really, all these billions, all these ups and downs and dire predictions—I’m scared, and yet my life remains very much the same. It’s good. For now. But what if …

As for the Bee, I read Bob Shallit’s column, which gives me some sense of what’s being built. I’m jazzed about the new Citizen Hotel and Hot Italian, if not Fountains at Roseville. But businesses opening or closing doesn’t really touch me much more, on balance, than does my growing knowledge of Somali pirates. But I suppose I’m better off for “keeping up.”

Right??

What do you get from following the news these days? Is it mostly all in your head? Is it freaking you out, too? Does knowing the details of terrible things you can do absolutely nothing about add anything good to your life? Is it just entertainment? Monkey mind? The rubbernecks-at-a-car-crash effect? I’d really like to know.

Me, I guess I’ll just keep reading. It’s hard to look away.

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