Information overload becoming
a problem with news coverage
Monday, August 26, 2013 4:03 AM
I applaud those of you who decided to return to this column after last week's oozed maroon and gold. I hope you have learned by now I need to vent that pride every few months. Expect a similar article if the Golden Gopher football team makes the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, in reality . . .
I keep up with the news. By that, I mean I turn on National Public Radio when I drive home. By that, I mean I hear a bunch of words like "the Fed," "Edward Snowden," "Syria" and "Egypt."
It occurred to me the other night as I drove into the approaching dusk, that I don't retain too much of the information I receive in a normal newscast. I considered the possibility that it was due to how it was presented. Top-of-the-hour news is usually packaged into neat, yet very dense segments. It's like granola, in that you only need a little bite to chew on for a good while. Except the news doesn't give you a chance to stop and think about the first story, because it's on to the next one!
By the time I turn off the car in the garage, I've traveled the world, been introduced to several complex foreign policy issues, dived into the psyches of people the media considers interesting, and heard the Twins have lost yet again. Basically, it's in one ear and out the other. What have I learned?
By no means do I have the answers to this news-saturation conundrum I feel faces not only me, but many people who consume news on a daily basis. Whatever it's worth, I have the privilege of providing an insider's perspective on news as I experience news as I perceive it in the world around me.
I deal with a wide variety of news here at the Bluff Country Newspaper Group. Sure, I'm focusing on just a very small corner of Minnesota, but within that area I cover local government, schools and human interest stories. I snap photographs of area events. Though it may seem at times as if the news runs along the same wavelength and tastes the same, I guarantee you that it does not feel the same from my end. Each person, group or city has a different story to tell and each is unique.
Since I am always working on a story, the ones I have written in the past usually stay there. There are several stories I have written multiple follow-up articles about. However, my experience in beat reporting has been limited because local newspapers demand variety. As a result, I tend to easily forget articles I have recently written, unless someone reminds me of them. This is the curse of deadlines. Work really hard on a story, submit it and forget about it. Wash, rinse, repeat.
So, you would think the news I get on public radio would stick in my head more. After all, I hear it every day and even multiple times per day. Here is where I propose a two-word theory for why my brain leaks out all the news on the radio.
He leaked a lot of National Security Agency surveillance intelligence, so it's not too absurd that he caused all the news in my brain to leak out, right?
You're right. It is absurd.
No, my two-word theory is "information overload." News is complex. It takes a lot of thought in order to more clearly understand. The small, bite-sized packets of information presented during newscasts are deceptive. They are like icebergs above the surface of water, diverting attention away from the extremely large ice mass under the surface. There is always, as Paul Harvey said, "The rest of the story."
News agencies earnestly try to capture the whole of the story, but many times misrepresent vital parts. Getting the gist is important, but news needs to be more. However, it is apparent in our day that trying to do more in journalism leads to ridiculous speculation. The George Zimmerman trial-by-media is a sorry example. There must be middle ground between just reporting the facts and too much speculation. Perhaps I'll find it as I continue on my journalism journey.
For now, I'm just trying to keep my head afloat in a world where the amount of information is increasing exponentially. It is a refreshing challenge to write articles that capture stories that so often have more beneath the surface. At least you have a week to think about them instead of a minute!