Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Just Say "No!" to Television and Mass Media News

We often begin the new year with a resolution. Here is one to try: stop watching television news and stop reading mass market print media. The news is available all around us, through snippets on Yahoo!, bloggers, occasional headlines and conversation. Even if you reduce your news consumption from one hour per day to 10 minutes, you will have saved yourself confusion and error.

It is difficult to know how much of the news is factually accurate. Even if the vast majority is, the slant that it provides is misleading, and partial knowledge is often worse than none. For example, in the field of education, the business press often represents graduates of MBA programs in business schools as receiving specific, high salaries. Upon closer inspection, the individual who relies on the reports may learn (1) the surveys of graduates on which the salary numbers are based are skewed and biased so that only graduates voluntarily reporting their starting pay are included in the averages. This has the effect of bloating the numbers because students who have not found a job are least likely to report; and (2) there is considerable variability or variance about the mean, so that the mean number is meaningless. A few students might go to work for family firms at very high salaries; and a few might find jobs that pay several times the average. This has the effect of bloating the average. If one student starts at $500,000 and two start at $50,000, the mean is $200,000. If schools report the median, then there is better accuracy, but even there bias would result. For instance, if 20% cannot find a job at all, the median could be $100,000, which sounds great, but if you're one of the 20% it does you no good.

So an applicant who reads the news carefully could easily find themselves seriously misled in a major life choice. Now, multiply that over all the stories that the mass media provides. Consider the pattern of errors in the leading newspapers like the New York Times over many decades. Also consider the media's corruption in supporting incumbents in exchange for favors. You may conclude that it is better to avoid a con than to be exposed to it. Better to avoid the news since it is packed with errors and lies.

One other concern was raised by someone who posted here recently. The values that the electronic and print media communicate are corrupt. Excessive attention paid to material success, hysterical fear of stock market declines, obsession with get-rich-quick schemes, the inane opinions of movie stars and newspaper reporters, such as the eminently stupid Rosie O'Donnell (why would anyone care what she has to say on any topic whatsoever?) and the dull witted fashions and patterns of America's entertainment culture are likely to leave frequent viewers dumbed down.

So let us all resolve to avoid paying attention to the mass media. I am hoping that some of the major print media firms will fold this year. That would indeed give us something to celebrate.

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