News as the same old story

Some people I've known cannot get enough news. They've left CNN on all day and stay close to the radio for news on the hour. They read their newspaper from front to back. I've often wondered what drives this behavior.

One obvious explanation is an "addiction to titillation". In a life devoid of purpose, significance and projects, there's a severe shortage of stimulation. The need for excitement becomes an insatiable appetite. The newer the news the better and breaking stories are best. News is thrilling if it's laced with violence, conflicts and betrayals. Editors who embrace the philosophy: "if it bleeds, it leads" are on the same wavelength of those who are starved for stimulation.

Another explanation has come to mind more recently, as I've recently learned so much about the psychology of prediction. We constant make and update predictions in order to rely upon them heavily. Our strong and incessant need to be right connects to our reliance on our own predictions. We're in constant search for "self confirming evidence" that proves we correctly anticipated what was going to happen. We're repeatedly saying to ourselves "I knew it", "what did I tell you?" or "what did you expect?".

When we're substantiating our predictions, it's not unexpected news we want, it's the same old story that thrills us. We want the world to seem familiar even if it takes a delusional construct to live under that impression. We maintain a strong bias that over-generalizes the "white swans" and dismisses the possibility of "black swans". We want things to happen that match what we've been predicting. We want to be right all along about this.

When the news does not match our predictions and cannot be dismissed as a fluke, our minds are in crisis. We're experiencing "cognitive dissonance". We've been abruptly pulled out of our comfort zones. We're dreading the consequences of appearing wrong, stupid, ignorant, gullible, naive or clueless. We desperate to get it right next time. We scour the news for what to cling to and make into our updated prediction.

Broadcast and print journalists had it "made in the shade" with audiences who consumed news for these reasons. They really could not get enough news to successfully hang in the comfort zones continuing to be right. They always needed more to keep their predictions updated and their need for stimulation satisfied.


  1. Yeah I agree with that. The whole point of news is to find the biggest and most conflicting things going people will become interested and read the next get more money. You dont really hear about normal people doing normal things in the news; its the war, its the horrible economy, its the plane crashes. When 90-something percent of planes make it safely to their destination.
    Good article.

  2. Thanks Tim. Journalists say it's the "normal people doing normal things" that defines what is newsworthy. There would be no abnormal occurrences to report on without lots of normal ones to take for granted. But I'm thinking most people use the constant reports of abnormal incidents to confirm their suspicions, convictions and predictions about the troubles other people will get into and what will go wrong in the world.