I have to admit something right from the start. I am a news junkie, particularly political news. So for me, this political year is like the Super Bowl every day. That is why I have come to enjoy my cable news networks. They give me all the news I want. I flip between CNN and FoxNews with an occasional peak over at MSNBC.
But regardless of whether you are a news junkie like me or simply a casual observer of news and events, cable news has changed our cultural landscape. The 24/7 cable news cycle has had an effect on us. Like all innovations and new technologies that move through our culture, they change us. In ways both good and bad, constant news coverage shapes and forms us.
Mike Metzger from the Clapham Institute, made this point about how technology affects us:
Benedictine monks invented the mechanical clock in the 12th century to remind workers to take periodic Sabbath breaks. They never imagined someone like Frederick Taylor, known as the Father of Scientific Management, would use the stopwatch (notice it’s called a stopwatch?) to start a movement to increase productivity. Today we “fight” the clock to squeeze every last drop of efficiency out of every last second.
We are influenced by the very technologies that we create. Cable news has turned the news cycle from a daily half hour national news cast to a 24/7 feeding frenzy. It has reinvented news. But it has the potential of reinventing us as well.
Since cable 24/7 news coverage isn’t going away anytime soon, here are some of the implications and pitfalls of cable 24/7 news coverage on our life, faith and practice:
It diminishes our hope. You are no doubt familiar with the old adage about the news, “if it bleeds it leads.” News can’t help but crave conflict and the controversial. It’s the stuff that makes headlines. But when the news is a constant barrage of despair, violence and chaos, it can cause us to become cynical and fearful. We can risk losing any sense of hope.
It is biblical hope that, as Christians, we are to hold on to. Our hope is one that knows that no matter what chaos we may see on the news, the church is still alive and well. Our hope is sure in our knowledge that God is still seated on his throne, and our hope clings to power of the Holy Spirit who continues to advance the Kingdom, where nothing or no one can thwart it.
It elevates the trivial. Certainly the news covers important and life altering events. But because there is so much air time to fill, most times the cable news channels find themselves covering the inane, superficial and trivial issues of the day. For instance, was it news when Eliot Spitzer resigned as Governor of New York because of a prostitution scandal? Certainly. But was it equally newsworthy to know every gritty detail of the prostitute that he was with? I don’t think so.
When the trivial is elevated it comes at the cost of real important issues being diminished. We can’t allow the trivial to distract and numb us to the real issues of justice, poverty and brokenness in the world.
It discourages a Sabbath rest. God has designed rest to be a part of his creation. For instance, after God went on a creation marathon as recorded in Genesis, He rested. Also in the Old Testament, he instructed the Israelites to rest in the land after 7 years (Lev. 25:3-4). We are also encouraged to seek a day of worship, rest and recreation (Exodus 20:11). Rest is a healthy thing. Rest allows and cultivates healthy rhythms in life. When we don’t rest, we overheat and burnout.
There is an expression in the newspaper business (though I’m not sure if they use it anymore) of putting the “paper to bed”. In the past there was a sense of closure and completeness with the news for the day. There was a point in the day when it was done and finished. With cable news, that is no longer the case. It never stops. It never rests. It never takes a vacation. That fact alone makes cable 24/7 news a potentially unhealthy addition to the rhythm of our life.
It cultivates a sense of entitlement. I get news when I want it. There is no delayed gratification. It is there at my fingertips. It creates in us a sense of presumptuousness.
But how does that attitude toward news and information translate to our attitude toward God? Are we to presume with God? Certainly it is true that as Christians, we are in Christ and therefore we can boldly enter into his throne room to receive mercy (Hebrews 4:16). But is intimacy with God as easy and instant as merely turning on a light switch? What if we are facing a crisis like the psalmist:
But I cry to you for help, O LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, O LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death;
I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken my companions and loved ones from me;
the darkness is my closest friend. – Psalm 88:13-18
That is where the psalm ends. No resolution. No nice ending or neat package. Consider as well the dark night of the soul that Mother Theresa expressed in her recently discovered diaries. In the gutters of Calcutta, God often didn’t seem near and close to her.
Is God any less real if He appears silent or distant to us? No. But because of the easy access of news and information, we have become accustomed to instant connection. Unfortunately that kind of expectation doesn’t translate well in a relationship with the God of the universe.
So is cable 24/7 news evil and to be shunned? No. There is tremendous value with cable news in its ability to keep us informed. Cable news has transformed the cultural and political landscape. The important thing for us is to recognize is how this medium can potentially transform us.