Of all things to read, why read the news?
C. S. Lewis asked this question in both An Experiment in Criticism and Surprised by Joy. He described the person who reads only the news as “the most unliterary reader of all,” one step below the reader of the “lowest kinds of fiction.” As for news writers, Lewis deemed them unreliable because they tend to focus on stories of “vulgarity and sensationalism,” and rarely put facts in their proper context.
Lewis is onto something here. As a journalist, I hope you don’t cut the news entirely out of your reading diet. But Lewis’s words point to the fact that it’s wise for us to consider how we read the news.
Here are five biblically based principles for Christians to keep in mind when engaging with the media.
1. Exercise discernment.
The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps. (Prov. 14:15)
Think critically about the story you’re reading. What does it reveal about the human condition? Does it reveal anything about God? How would he view the situation?
For all the talk of objectivity, no journalist has freed himself or herself from bias. It’s wise, then, to read news from across the ideological spectrum, if you have the time. Though the goal is finding the truth, journalists aren’t always able to print the truth, no matter how much time they put into a story.
So be discerning. Breaking news reports are often wrong. Aim to give reporters time to sort through rumors and tips before reacting publicly to a piece of news.
2. Avoid foolish talk.
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. (Prov. 18:2)
So much foolish talk takes place in the media, especially on social media and cable news. Social media incentivize brevity, which is good for publishing short statements and seeing what people are talking about. But it’s a terrible forum for nuanced conversation about complicated issues.
On cable news, much of the focus is on ginning up conflict rather than fostering genuine and helpful debate. The secret of cable news is that it’s far more scripted than most people think. Producers often approve guests’ talking points before they go on the air, and they often pick guests to advance a certain argument. Needless to say, the types of yelling matches that regularly break out are poor substitutes for thoughtful debate.
3. Practice empathy.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Rom. 12:15)
Stories can help us better understand what it’s like to live as someone of a different ethnicity, age, or economic status. This can aid us as we pursue greater unity in our churches, seeking to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.
I don’t know what it’s like to be black in America, but reading stories about past and present oppression against black people has helped me better understand the experience of some of my fellow church members. Reading stories is no substitute for relationships, but they can certainly enhance our relationships.
4. Don’t succumb to fear.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1)
It’s so easy to hear of problems and let fear take over. In those moments, we must rehearse the excellent truths that the Lord, our stronghold, is sovereign; that he appoints leaders; that he hates injustice; that he has our good in mind; that our salvation is intact, even if the worst happens to us.
These truths are precious for the Christian when the news is bad.
5. Enrich your prayers.
Be constant in prayer. (Rom. 12:12)
Reporting can help us pray more intelligently for our community and our world. The best way to avoid fear is to cry out to God immediately after reading a troubling story.
Does your church support gospel ministry in a particular part of the world? Find out what’s happening there so you can know how to pray more specifically for the missions work you’re supporting. Do the same for your city.
Your Best News Now
I’m not quite as down on the media as C. S. Lewis was. Media outlets help me know where to go on dates with my wife, inform me on how to vote, give me reasons to pray, provide conversation points with my neighbors, keep me updated on my career field, help me learn more about creation, offer opportunities to sympathize with others, and humor me. To the extent that journalists seek truth, behave ethically, and report interesting and important stories, praise God for them.
But we must recognize these media sources’ limits. They’re excellent at demonstrating humanity’s depravity, not providing a solution. For that, we must turn to God’s Word.
The Bible says the penalty for our depravity is death and hell. Yet the Bible also says Jesus died to cancel that penalty, then rose from the dead and now offers salvation to all who turn from their sin and trust only in him. This is the best news of all.
My Christian friend, the media don’t determine your reality. No matter how crazy the headlines get, your King is still on the throne. Our great hope is that Jesus is coming soon to quiet the mouths of foolish talkers, to remove every reason to fear, and to make all things new.