Appetites for more news

I've known retirees who subscribed to three daily newspapers and read them religiously. I've also known senior citizens who left their TV on all day tuned to a cable news channel. All these "news hounds" were also avid shoppers. They basked in materialistic splendors rather than being creative, reflective or nurturing. I've recently realized how newspapers, broadcast journalists and print advertisers have profited off of their avid readers. A cycle of increasing returns was created, and is only now fading away and getting replaced.

Lots of people want to take their minds off their troubles. This is a tricky business. If they pay attention to all the good news in the world, they will end up feeling sorry for themselves, deprived and worse off than before. If they can keep abreast of all the bad news in the world, they don't feel so bad. Their misery loves company and there's always someone worse off than themselves. Their appetite for "ain't it awful" updates from the world is insatiable.

Most people come out of years of classroom schooling and routinized employment -- feeling powerless to make a difference in the world. Anything that "makes them feel" dependent on authorities, experts and professionals to take charge - give them that familiar feeling. Information that presumes they are empowered, efficacious and engaged would rub them the wrong way. They feel OK when they are not feeling OK about themselves. News that gives them this reassuring feeling of powerlessness sits well with them.

Our minds are hard wired to deal with imminent dangers. We're prone to worry relentlessly when safety is unavailable. We naturally pay attention to what's changing in our situation to anticipate when to fight, take flight or freeze like a deer in headlights. News of changing dangers feeds our need to worry endlessly.

When we've had enough of commiseration, powerlessness and anxiety, anyone living near a store goes shopping. Acting like a consumer who can pull out a wallet to pay for goods and services feels powerful, in control and free from all the bad news. Shopping spells relief and provides a break from the daily grind. Yet it's only an escape. There's always the insatiable need to track the bad news, feel dependent and monitor impending doom.

Journalists and advertisers have filled these needs superbly. The more they delivered, the more people wanted from them. It not only satisfied a demand, it created more demand. The sales not only returned revenue, it returned desire for more news and advertising. It was impossible to lose while this cycle thrived. But as the "news hounds" are getting replaced by cyber citizens, it's impossible to win.

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