What is the Value of Reading the News?

By Hanna Zelma Horányi

In my family, I am known to be the unreachable one. I have a tendency to leave my phone at home, to go for days without opening my messages and forget to reply once I did. My secrets for survival include refusing notifications, muting conversations, and aggressively opting for do not disturb (or, on worse days, airplane mode) – simply because while my ability to feel happy and cared for does increase upon hearing from friends, this effect quickly turns around after the third message.

The only exceptions are news alerts. I receive notifications from the New York Times and the BBC, and (since its election year) three different Hungarian news sites. Add in the fact that I am subscribed to newsletters from the Economist, the New Yorker, a Hungarian news outlet, and the NYTimes, and that I spend most of my mornings listening to podcasts from the BBC, the Economist, and (you guessed it) the NYTimes (Let’s not get into the topic of information bubbles just now.), and my days seem nothing more than a quick succession of Extraordinary Catastrophic Never-Seen-Before Inescapable Infuriating Breaking News.

And it actually makes me feel good. For some reason, what I cannot take from the people closest to me, I accept or even demand from journalists who, more often than not, live on the other side of the world.

…I think you can tell by now that I am what they call a news junkie. However, the question arises: What is the value of it all?

Because yes, it is important to keep myself informed about Ukraine. And yes, it is important to know that the newest IPCC report warns of an ever-accelerating climate crisis, or that the teachers’ strike of last month (of which my mother was an organiser) was deemed unlawful by the Budapest Court of Appeal. And I would argue that it is important to follow the Jan. 6 investigations, even if they do not have an (explicit) effect on my life.

However, if I am being honest, skimming the headlines reading the news often serves as nothing more than a rage bank. My phone buzzes, I glance over, I get upset. The screen lights up, I read ten words, and I want to scream. I walk across Middelburg, Michael Barbaro’s fits and starts-voice in my ear, and my stomach slowly sinks. And I tell myself that I know more about the world, that I am a well-informed citizen, but what does that actually mean? Do I read the news to decide who to vote for in the next election? No, that is already decided. Do I keep myself updated so that I know how to get involved? No, I am not in Hungary, and the occasional petition finds me anyways. Do I even support the journalists with whom I cultivate this obsessive relationship? Maybe.

Aaron Sorkin once wrote: ‘There’s nothing more important for a democracy than a well-informed electorate’. This quote is very close to my heart, and still, I have not realised its full meaning until lately. Because a true commitment to being informed cannot stop at a self-gratifying addiction to the news: it requires inserting yourself in the political conversation, in daring to go beyond the black-and-white world of rage, frustration, and anxiety.

You need to form an opinion, and then be ready to talk about it.

And not just through all-knowing glances and expressive grunts you share with your friends. Conversation means the creation of new knowledge; therefore, a dedication to being informed means a readiness to engage in discussion; a readiness to state your views and be open to change them.

So, to answer my question: reading the news in and of itself has limited value. The knowledge we gain from it can only realise its power if we are ready to share it with the other.


Image source: https://unsplash.com/photos/WYd_PkCa1BY

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