For Our Sanity, It's Time to Return to Reading Our News

A magazine does not yell at you. It lets you think.

Posted Feb 28, 2015

Better Midler is singing about Otto Titzling and his invention of the brassiere. I turn up the volume and sing along—over the shoulder boulder holder—wishing I had a microphone and some spiked heels. And an audience that wouldn't tell me to please be quiet. 

Music makes us happy—that’s been well documented through multiple studies, usually linked to the chemical dopamine, so that’s not news.      

Patricia Prijatel
Source: Patricia Prijatel

But the source of my pleasure isn’t just the Divine Miss M. It is largely the result of what I’m not listening to. I have shut broadcast news off my radio and television—with a few exceptions I’ll explain in a minute.  As a journalist and seasoned news junkie, this is a big deal.

I once devoured the morning and evening national news, planning my days around the television. My car radio was tuned to news. 

Bit by bit, though, the talking heads turned to shouting heads and it all became so noisy I was a nervous mess after a half hour of TV news. The standard formula: Terrorism! Help!   Crazy, destructive weather somewhere! Help! Then a cute dog video. No reasoned perspective, no reach for solutions, just a lot of hype and fear.

According to researchers at Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, we can catch stress from other people and other situations, including television viewing:

Whether at work or on television, someone is always experiencing stress, and this stress can affect the general environment in a physiologically quantifiable way through increased concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol.  

For my sanity, I have reverted to my first love: print journalism. Newspapers and magazines.

Print is quiet. It’s also how Americans got their information for most of this country’s history. A newspaper or magazine does not yell at you. It sits there, waiting for you to think it through, methodically using your brain.

When you read, you’ve got to focus on what you are doing, rather than listening with one ear while you make spaghetti and try to housebreak the puppy. You have to ponder the words and put the meaning together yourself, without the inflection added by the newsreader. You have less visual stimulation and more mental challenge.

And so much less noise.

You need to take time out of your schedule to read a print publication.  You sit at your kitchen table, comfy chair, or at the local coffee shop, and give yourself to the act of reading for however long you can budget. You breathe. You sip coffee or tea. You relax.

You avoid the angry, cynical voices, the godawful cacophony of arguments and counterarguments, the stress of immediacy, of Breaking News that may or may not be important or, more troubling, accurate.

I still occasionally listen to local broadcasts because they’re not as loud in content or form as their national counterparts and they often tell me things I can’t get anywhere else—community events, especially. Plus, local folks have an accountability to their communities that is lacking in many of the overpaid national news folks.  And I watch some in-depth television news shows, especially if a major story is breaking.

But the guy with the strident voice on the radio, whose tone is always a little judgy? Not in my car. The liberal and conservative pair of commentators who are supposed to provide balance and may be nice enough folks, but come off as smug and actually a bit shallow and, in the end, tell me nothing of consequence? Not in my home. The formulaic national news with an overblown eek factor? Not anymore. 

Newspapers and magazines could use a lot of improvement and are far from the quality we once enjoyed, but as a medium, they are far better for my psyche. And I think we would all be far better off if we spent more time with them. They don't make the reality of a fractured planet any better, but they make it feel more bearable and, in many cases, they help me figure out what I can do about the problems facing us.

Plus, you can listen to your music while reading them.

My personal payoff: more Bette Midler, Emmy Lou Harris, Everly Brothers, Chopin, and Dvorak. More calm, less agitation. Occasional bursts of joy as I harmonize with Don and Phil. 

And for a while it's a sweet, sweet world, as I imagine myself in concert rather than at war.