Just as we have to eat to live, Christians must follow the news if they want to make an impact on the world around them. And in our hyper-connected age, we have a virtual smorgasbord of media options. But we must choose wisely if we want to have a healthy media diet.
“We should avoid marshmallows and eat vegetables,” Jeffrey Bilbro wrote in Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News. “Hot takes and clickbait, TV news broadcasts . . . and the one-liners that populate social media feeds are easy to consume, but they leave us bloated.”
Even though we mistrust the media, we tend to consume it indiscriminately. Rather than seeking new information to test our political beliefs, we often gravitate to outlets that confirm our views. It’s one of the ways we cope with the mind-boggling amount of information, much of it misleading or irrelevant, available to us.
Social media is the fast food in our media diet; we’re likely to consume it even when we think it may be bad for us. The Pew Research Center reports that 59 percent of those who get at least some of their news from social media expect it to be “largely inaccurate.”
But there are plenty of options for cutting the fat out of your diet.
“Your brain is already full”
Swiss writer Rolf Dobelli, the author of Stop Reading the News: A Manifesto for a Happier, Calmer and Wiser Life, admits that he used to be a news junkie. But he realized it didn’t help him make better decisions or understand the world better. It made him anxious—a common reaction, experts say—and made it more difficult for him to concentrate.
He also noticed that the news was full of items with no impact on his daily life, such as gossip about celebrities and disasters from far-off places.
So he stopped subscribing to newspapers, watching TV news, listening to radio, and reading online news. As a substitute for the daily news, Dobelli recommends reading books and in-depth articles. Or, if you’re afraid of missing something important, read a weekly roundup, newspaper, or magazine.
“You don’t need to know whether one president shook another one’s hand,” he wrote. “You don’t need to know whether two trains crashed somewhere in the world. Your brain is already full. The more you cram it with junk, the less room there is for the information you genuinely need to know.” He added, “Big news will inevitably leak out and find you.”
Some of Dobelli’s ideas may seem “out there,” but you don’t have to do anything radical to improve your media consumption.
Media diet tips
“A media diet is very much like a real diet . . . mix the different food groups,” Dietram Scheufele, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, said.
Don’t get all your news from TV, talk radio, or, heaven forbid, social media. Exercise discretion in what you consume and what you believe, and don’t just read the headlines.
Bilbro, the author of Reading the Times, urges a “robust diet of thoughtful journalism, long-form essays, and books.” It’s also important to be selective in the time you spend monitoring the news and in the choice of stories you follow.
“As much as 21st-century Christians should avoid isolation from the injustices of the wider world, it is wise to focus on what is within our power and calling to address,” Bryan Weynand wrote for The Gospel Coalition. “We were created to live as redeemed people within our spheres of influence, not to bear the burden of a world’s worth of bad news, merely because it is technologically available to us.”
Take a social media fast
Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung suggests taking a social media fast from time to time.
“Social media drives us—relentlessly, punishingly, inexorably—to the now,” DeYoung wrote for The Gospel Coalition. “It gives us the illusion of being up to date, current, relevant. And it shames us when we don’t know the newest meme and this week’s viral video. The medium does not encourage slow reflection or push us to the wisdom of the past. We need to fast from the information feast, lest we gorge ourselves on trivialities.”
Social media isn’t all bad, but you should consume it judiciously, like everything else in your media diet. “You can use Twitter, for example, to put yourself in the way of a lot of credible information every time you check your feed, it just depends on who you like and follow,” said Peter Adams, senior vice president for education at the News Literacy Project.
The project offers a wealth of resources for finding reliable sources, separating fact from opinion and dismissing conspiracy theories—all essential skills as digital innovations revolutionize the way the media distributes and people consume the news, often with unforeseen consequences.
How varied is your media diet?
The late John Culkin, sometimes described as “the man who invented media literacy,” wrote, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”
If the first thing you do in the morning is check the newsfeed on your smartphone, you know what he means.
Bilbro wrote that news organizations have become “lifestyle brands.”
“The ‘woke’ evangelicals are just much more influenced by MSNBC and liberal Twitter,” evangelical leader Timothy Keller told The Atlantic. “The conservative Christians are much more influenced by Fox News and their particular loops. And they’re [both] living in those things eight to 10 hours a day. They go to church once a week, and they’re just not immersed in the kind of biblical theological study that would nuance that stuff.”
It’s important to consider different sides of the significant issues of the day. If you normally watch a conservative network, check out a liberal one. Be more intentional about what you watch, hear, and read. Seek out news close to home, or anywhere else you can make an impact for the kingdom of God.
Bilbro, who titled the introduction to his book “Reading the News in Order to Love Our Neighbors,” wrote, “At its best, the news produces the information and community we need to journey well on our path toward God.”
It’s easy to find fault with the news media, like everything else in our fallen world. But the choices you make in your media diet are up to you.