Navigate the Bad News Feed.

2016-10-25 18:16

It’s exhausting. Each week there is a new headline hooting out an eternity of scandals. Every morning you wake up you are guaranteed to witness a new revelation of our “beloved country” being high-jacked by some corrupt scheme. If not that, you will most definitely learn of another court case to enforce that a wrong is made right. After we got over the Nkandlagate scare, one would have assumed that our national crisis narrative would come to a standstill. Alas, that would not be the case. The bluesy news trail continues. The headline that shouts the loudest must be the “Fees Must Fall” university movement. If it’s not students blazing their frustration towards academic structures, we have more fires burning. At this point, the more fires are spelt in the news of our finance minister Pravin Gordhan having court charges levelled against him, if not that it’s the state capture investigation, if not that it’s the skepticism we have of the newly appointed Public Protector (what’s her name again?), and the faithful streaming in of the bad news pattern that we consume each day never stops.

With the advent of social media there is a constant flow of news streaming into our timelines 24/7 and we are always clicking links, short news videos and blog sites to gobble up the day’s controversy. But what does this consumption do to the psyche of a nation that consumes bad news? Do we inform ourselves of the dilemma of our days and pretend it’s an external reality outside of our own lives? Or do we internalize the battles and the challenges of our surroundings? Can the badness of the news violate our personal peace and our mental health? Or does the public have the cerebral skill to separate themselves from the “soft” trauma experienced from the bad news recycled each day?

I know one thing for sure, as a journalist I am unaware of the destruction of this consumption of negativity. I wake up each morning. Put on the local news radio station. First thing I do when I arrive at work is I greedily page through the business newspaper. I just want to know it all. My Twitter feed is my everyday companion. The sooner I know about the latest trending hashtag of a doomsday situation, I feel I am part of the rest of the world. As much as I don’t know to what extent my mental space is affected by the stream of the news, I am becoming more aware that looking at the world in the prism of news headlines and the latest hashtag fad is not healthy for anyone. You will miss the sunset, you will stop reading poetry and forget the joys of sitting at a dinner table with your family because you are so consumed on your couch by 24-hours news channels.  The issue of seeing the world through the mega-lens of the media is not that it will consume your life with a stream of ongoing updates, but that this constant stream of crisis can desensitize you with the violent images that you are seeing. And it becomes a normality for us to see our nation as a stained and tainted “rainbow nation” and this further adds to the distress of our already negative perceptions of the communities we live in. Maybe bad news is more of a stressor to those struggling from mental illness, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are exempt. It is true that the negativity we consume in the news impacts the manner in which we frame our world and informs our views of the environments that we are in.

So, does this mean that we avoid 702fm or watch Trevor Noah stand-up comedy all day for a sense of bliss and false reality? Surely not, but there must be a need to manage our intake of information. Surely, we must be conscious to the fact that our emotional intelligence cannot deal with an intake of daily negativity, and life needs us to invite a sense of liveliness into our beings. There is no doubt that we as citizens need a sense of responsibility on how we consume news and the reasons behind our consumption. At times, there might be a need for us to switch off from the newsfeed and silent the external voices and choose the attitude on which we interact with the world. Also forge or find a resource where you can attain positive insight. Maybe it’s reading the Bible. Maybe it’s the lyrics of a song. Maybe it’s a TEDtalk video. Whatever it is, it would not be an injustice for you to find a portal assisting you to developing a positive sense of being.

And no, I am also not saying, we need a good-news agenda all day from the media industry. That would be a falsifying the role of the media. It is important for news to inform us if there is corruption in governments, challenges in society and environmental concerns. With that said, it is important for our media to start thinking of creatively searching for news narratives that do more than inform us of the "sexy corruption story", but expose the brightness of a multi-hued country such as ours. What saddens me about news these days is that newspapers have fewer creative features and television news programing has moved away from exposing the spirit of the human endeavor. Maybe, we, as the media need to start re-imagining the stories of our country. Allow our sense of news to spell out the advancements made in a trying nation and recapture those “human interest” stories which remind us of our musics, our arts, our diversity and human triumphs in the midst of the heavy challenges.

With that said, let me switch off my PC and radio and silence my mobile’s ringtone and… well, find other things to do.

Well, maybe not at this very moment… let me first find the things to do either than being consumed by the ever-rolling steam of the news-feed. In the meanwhile...#NavigateBadNews

I would love to hear your thoughts. How do you think a constant stream of bad news affects our psyche as a nation? Holler at  @jazz2ben

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