My grandfather worked 12 hours a day pushing dirt with a bulldozer when I was a boy.
When he came home, he was tired to the bone. After he ate his supper, he collapsed in a chair, pulled off his boots and sat down and watched Walter Cronkite share what had happened in the nation and world that day.
Then he would listen to the local news. After that, he’d turn to the local paper to fill in the gaps.
Before Pop died, cable television was on the scene. Being confined to his home much of the time, he was watching a steady diet of six to eight hours of cable news per day.
It seemed that the more he watched, the angrier he became about politics and about living in this country.
Rare was the time we got together that he didn’t get off on some political topic that had gotten under his skin from cable news. If he were still alive today, I’m convinced it would be even worse.
I see this often in people I meet, especially those that are retired and find a lot of time to watch television.
However, you don’t have to be retired to be overdosing on the news. Regardless of which station you choose, if you do not watch the news in moderation, it’s not good for you.
Today, more than ever, much of the news is presented with some bias. Most networks have an agenda.
When news is used to shape the minds of people around a political agenda, good journalism can be compromised to some degree.
There also appears to be a widespread failure to recognize the difference between news reporting (stating what happened) and news commentary (opining about what happened).
Cable news networks are mostly the latter, with very little straight news reporting.
We cannot get to a point where we are afraid to hear the truth or ask reporters to report it.
However, the longer people hear news told only from their political viewpoint, the more convinced they become that is the only version of the truth.
One outcome of this is that people cease listening to news networks just to be informed, but to have their viewpoints validated.
How can we stay informed and maintain some balance? How can we be informed without being indoctrinated? How can we get the news without the news getting to us?
Here are three recommendations about our news-watching habits.
1. Limit the amount of news you watch or listen to each day. Moderation is good for most things. It’s no different with news consumption.
I know people who are watching six to 10 hours of news a day from the same network. This amount of news consumption can’t be good for the soul.
If you watch an hour a day, you get the basic stories. The chances are if you are watching much more than that, it’s not going to improve your quality of life, and news in excessive amounts makes some people angry, anxious and pessimistic about the future.
2. Watch more than just one news network.
If you only watch one news network exclusively, how can you know you are getting a balanced view of the issues? To be well rounded and subjective, watch or listen to more than one network.
Listen to how the news is broadcast from different sources and make up your mind about issues.
In addition to televised news, read the news in reputable print editions of newspapers and other forms of print journalism.
3. Be careful about listening to too much commentary on the news that seeks to influence you with a particular political view, whichever view it might be.
Instead, seek out news outlets that try to tell the story as it happened with as little biased reporting as possible.
It is essential for us to stay informed as Americans. It is crucial that we support a free press and appreciate professional journalism committed to telling the American people the truth.
The truth is always told from someone’s vantage point, but we need to recognize that vantage point and that it comes with an agenda.
If most news is told with some agenda or bias, why should we cast our allegiance behind a single news outlet so that its version of the truth is the only one we ever hear or ever believe?
When we do that, we’ve given up our freedom and allowed ourselves to become afraid of listening to what others have to say, even if we disagree.
We’ve allowed ourselves to become as uncompromising in our beliefs and positions as we accuse the other side of being in theirs.
Even if we never change our beliefs and positions, we can at least understand the positions of the other side better, and that’s always a good thing.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Helms’ website. It is used with permission.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.