I am not exaggerating when I say that I have counseled dozens of people with News Cycle Syndrome. (I made up the term, don’t google it, you’ll be disappointed).
News Cycle Syndrome is the increasing inability to turn off the television when a major disaster (i.e. war, emergency, deaths, disease outbreaks, etc.) is being reported upon. It was first identified during the Gulf War, when people would watch CNN for up to 20 hours a day, frightened that they would miss something critical if they slept.
This is not something humorous or rare. Celebrities, sports stars and even news anchors have all reported suffering from it. Lately though, it is getting worse. Right now we have Ebola virus, warfare in israel/Gaza, Christian persecution in Iraq, Ukrainian instability all bombarding our senses every news cycle.
People have asked me how it affects me and I can honestly say it doesn’t. I still look at the news, but it easy for me to turn away. I don’t lose much sleep at night and I don’t worry about what’s going to happen next. There is one major reason for this.
I don’t watch television news. I haven’t done so since 1987. I have a number of reasons for this and I want to share the most important ones with readers of this blog.
Television Reduces Your Ability to Analyze: Michael Medved, in his landmark book “Hollywood Versus America” reported on a study done at UCSB on the effects of media on the brain. After interviewing thousands of people, they put them through a test where they had to pick out falsehoods in news stories. These falsehoods were very obvious. The people picked out 90% of the newspaper stories with lies. They identified 75% of the radio stories that were wrong. They discovered only 20% of the television stories. They concluded that the brain will believe things that it SEES much more readily than what it reads or hears. We trust our eyes more than our ears and logic. This makes television news a dangerous commodity indeed.
Television Squashes the Distance Between You and an Event: These days, we can be right in the heart of the tornado, we can see children killed on the side of the road, we can look into the classroom where a gunman shot students. The value of emotional distance is that we don’t have to identify with a disaster. The closer we are, the more it affects our emotions.
Television Shows You What to Look at: Of course, all media is slanted and biased. There is no way for it to be otherwise. But our brains are skeptical of what we’re told. But when we only see certain points of view with our eyes, we exclude other possibilities more easily.
News Cycles Never End: With FoxNews and CNN broadcasting 24 hours a day, you can (and do) watch the news continually. The amount of time we watch news has tripled in just the last 20 years. No one is going to read the newspaper or magazines for 6 hours in a row. But we do that with television. The longer we watch, the more chance we will no longer analyze and as a result we devolve into simply digesting.
News Services Lump Together Stories that have Superficial Connections: All media do this. They show three stories in a row about husbands beating their wives and children. This leaves the reader/viewer with an idea that this happens all the time everywhere. At least with print media, we have the opportunity to think about it. News stories come at us so quickly, we do not think about our own reactions to the clumping of stories.
And Speaking About “Quickly”… back in 1965, the average new story lasted six minutes. Today’s television has reduced the story to less than 45 seconds. Once again, this leaves very little time to analyze what is being reported and our brain just stops. When your brain stops, you are susceptible to error and propaganda.