Consuming News from a Biblical Perspective
Proverbs 18:17 - The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him.
Fellowship Bible Church
If Jesus is presented as King in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, then his followers are obligated to view their interaction with their nation and culture from the point of view of Jesus’ kingdom and ethics. This includes how we construct our view of the world around us and current events.
Typically, this view is most heavily informed by the news media. Today, this media includes legacy newspapers, newsletters and magazines, and morning and evening news broadcasts, both local and national. Newer forms of media include cable news and talk radio. The latest forms, specifically, the platforms of social media (YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.), have arisen with the prominence of the internet.
News in Light of the Kingdom
Obviously, none of these media platforms existed in Jesus’ time. However, our views of current events and of our general society are governed by practices and traits that are not dependent upon communication technology. The Apostle Paul speaks about these practices in his letters to the young churches of his day. To name a few examples, we are to do the following.
Be wise toward outsiders, speaking in a gracious manner that preserves and enhances conversations (Col 4:5-6),
Let our gentleness (or reasonableness and moderation) be made known to all (Phil 4:5), especially in light of the nearness of the returning king (read with Phil 3:20-21),
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone, bless (‘seek the good of’) those who persecute us (instead of cursing them), avoid revenge, and overcome evil by seeking the common good of others (Rom 12:14-21),
Avoid falsehood (for example, don’t pass along unverified reports about events or people) while promoting truth as a way of life, especially in conversations with others (Eph. 5:25),
Be quick to listen to others, slow to speak in response, and reluctant to talk or act out of anger, outrage, or even annoyance (Jas 1:19), and
Use whatever powers we have to seek the good of others rather than merely promote or preserve our own prosperity (Lk 22:25-27; Phil 2:4-7).
Secular news is obviously not bound by this ethic. Other interests prevail, mostly money and power. Still, as we view various media outlets (including non-Christian sources), we can examine and critique what we are reading, listening to, and watching, all through the lens of the kingdom ethics sketched above.
Consume News Critically
One can rate news on its political and cultural leaning (Left or Right) and accuracy (facts and opinions). In fact, Ad Fontes (Latin for ‘to the sources’) Media does precisely this in their evaluation of news sources, including cable news (but not social media). Check out their rankings at https://adfontesmedia.com/interactive-media-bias-chart. (For more suggested media links, check below.)
We all have a starting point on political and cultural issues. We also typically consider ourselves as being in the middle, or moderately so. None of us likes being called an extremist. Additionally, most of us consider ourselves to be truthful and fact-based. No one likes being called out as wrong or a liar.
So, while Ad Fontes Media may rank your favorite news source as being much further to the extremes (on politics or accuracy) than you would say it is, take care not to dismiss the rankings outright. Their evaluators are open about how they do their work. They come from both ends of the Left-Right rankings. No rankings are perfect, but these are about as good as we can get.
Consider the following.
Use the rankings to examine your own beliefs and the sources you rely on to support your views;
Be on the lookout for your own confirmation bias (our natural tendency to seek out or only pay attention to information that we already agree with, quickly dismissing information that would undermine our current understanding of or beliefs about an event or idea);
Pay close attention to what is reported as fact and notice when you are reading or listening to an opinion or to an interpretation of an event;
Note the evidence cited in support of opinions and how the speaker/writer treats others who disagree (for example, the scorn of another’s opinion is generally to be avoided);
Notice when you become agitated or fearful about what is being said; ask yourself why (hint: we usually become angry or agitated when something we cherish or consider to be of great value is being threatened; identify your cherished notions that are being threatened); and
Mix up your sources of information, both in news and opinion; this works best when you can read alternative sources discussing the same issue or event; take special notice of what was left out of a report or discussion that the alternate source includes; consider how that omission shapes your own opinion of the event.
Interact with Social Media Cautiously
Computer scientists (including professors at universities and those who run social media companies) have almost conclusively determined that the best way to keep us on their websites and social media applications is to stimulate anger and outrage. It works like this.
As we watch a video, look at a picture, or read an article, social media companies log what we view, how long we linger on that item, and our ‘likes’.
The next article, photo, or video presented to us on the screen is selected based on these factors;
They build a profile using these factors and sell advertising to companies who want to sell products to us;
To increase advertising revenues, social media want us to stay on their station, channel, app, or site (this is called ‘stickiness’);
They have learned that the best way to increase stickiness is to increase our arousal, and the best stimulant is anger/outrage (well, okay, and sex also, but that’s not what this blog is about); and
As a result, our affections and loves, our dislikes and hates are being shaped; we are not merely using social media; it is shaping us; in fact, it is soul-shaping.
Similar conclusions can be applied to talk radio and cable news channels as they also want to keep you listening and watching. Because all these types of media are based on ‘clicks’ (either with a TV remote, radio dial, or computer mouse), they are essentially monetizing anger. Said another way, they are making money by stimulating our agitation, anger, and outrage.
I have personally experienced (and have talked with others with similar experiences) more daily peace, and less anxiety, when I got off social media. I also feel my chest tightening when I run across certain opinion shows on cable or radio. So, I avoid them.
Alternatively, you can continue to engage with media but discipline yourself to avoid anger (though sometimes this can be hard to do). For example, I use Instagram for ideas about landscape photography, posting some of my own work for feedback. (Well, mostly. I also watch sports, construction reels, and cat videos, none of which stimulates outrage, at least so far. I mean, who gets angry while watching a cat video?) I avoid everything else. For example, if someone cranks up a rant (which is rarely done among landscape photographers, political or otherwise), I simply block them.
Suggested News and Opinion Sources
The following are my suggestions only; they do not represent the ‘official’ position of Fellowship Bible Church, either of the pastors or the Elder Board. But I have found the coverage and discussions informative, lacking in outrage. I use Ad Fontes Media to select the most reliable sources that are closest to the middle of the Left-Right spectrum. You may find my selections ridiculous or over your head, or insightful and helpful. Your mileage may vary.
You may consider these either to the Left or the Right of your views. Even if you do, consider adding 2-3 sources that are different from your preference or beliefs. Do so in order to be “quick to listen” to people you may disagree with.
Almost all the subscription-based resources have a limited free offering (for example, they may offer a limited sample of videos, either on their website or on YouTube, a few articles a month, or a limited daily newsletter). A couple are completely free (AP, Reuters, PBS, BBC, and NPR).
As you try out these suggestions or others of your own choosing, you will likely (hopefully) find yourself in disagreement with at least some of what is presented. So be on guard against confirmation bias. I have found the following to be true.
"The most reliable cure for confirmation bias is interaction with people who don’t share your beliefs. They confront you with counter-evidence and counter-argument. John Stuart Mill said, 'He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that,' and he urged us to seek out conflicting views 'from persons who actually believe them.' People who think differently and are willing to speak up if they disagree with you make you smarter, almost as if they are extensions of your own brain" (Jonathan Haidt, “After Babel,” The Atlantic, May 2022; https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/05/social-media-democracy-trust-babel/629369/, accessed 4/16/22).
Traditional News & Opinion
PBS News Hour (www.pbs.org/newshour, Channel 8, 6:00 pm)
BBC News America (bbc.com/news/world/us_and_canada, Channel 8, 5:30 pm)
Associated Press (apnews.com)
National Public Radio – All Things Considered; Morning Edition (FM 88.7, npr.org/podcasts-and-shows/, houstonpublicmedia.org/news887/)
Wall Street Journal (wsj.com)
Washington Post (washingtonpost.com)
New York Times (nytimes.com)
Houston Chronicle (chron.com)
Texas Tribune (texastribune.org)
Christianity Today (christianitytoday.com)
The Dispatch, various newsletters; The French Press and The Morning Dispatch recommended, (thedispatch.com/about?sort=newsletter)
These shows consist of opinion and analysis from a conservative Christian perspective. Most deal with current events and social/political trends.
The Russell Moore Show (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-russell-moore-show/id1074011166)