News misleads us systematically


News reports do not represent the real world.
Our brains are wired to pay attention to visible,
large, scandalous, sensational, shocking, peoplerelated, story-formatted, fast changing, loud,
graphic onslaughts of stimuli. Our brains have
limited attention to spend on more subtle pieces
of intelligence that are small, abstract, ambivalent,
complex, slow to develop and quiet, much less
silent. News organizations systematically exploit
this bias.
News media outlets, by and large, focus on the
highly visible. They display whatever information
they can convey with gripping stories and lurid
pictures, and they systematically ignore the subtle
and insidious, even if that material is more
important. News grabs our attention; that’s how
its business model works. Even if the advertising
model didn’t exist, we would still soak up news
pieces because they are easy to digest and
superficially quite tasty.
The highly visible misleads us.
Take the following event. A car drives over a
bridge, and the bridge collapses. What does the
news media focus on? On the car. On the person
in the car. Where he came from. Where he
planned to go. How he experienced the crash (if
he survived). What kind of person he is (was). But
– that is all completely irrelevant. What’s
relevant? The structural stability of the bridge.
That’s the underlying risk that has been lurking
and could lurk in other bridges. That is the lesson
to be learned from this event.

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