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  • Reverend James Squire

Seeing Life Through A News Cycle Lens

I am afraid that the impact of social media and specifically the news cycle has worked against the ethical dimension of following through to help people. We see the news delivered up to us on a daily basis as a way that we structure our response to others.

History repeats itself in a covert way not clearly obvious at first but certainly present in our moving quickly from one news story to the next. Our lives are lived in chunks of experience that disappear so quickly as we are making our way through life.

There are several glaring examples of this in the past weeks and months. When the war in Ukraine began, we saw an abundance of stories and film of what it was like to live through the war from a Ukrainian perspective. We have had terrible weather conditions that have been brought on by climate change. But floods and tornadoes last for several days of the news cycle and then some how they leave the news and also our awareness of the ongoing plight of the victims. There is very little follow up later of how the people are doing with their rebuilding of their towns. Trump’s stealing of White House records stays a little longer in the news cycle because there seems to be a change in the issue every day. Watch how long it takes the devastation in Florida to leave “front page” news.

I want to know what is happening to those people in those horrific situations. We start to lose awareness of the news story which quicky turns away from real caring about the people involved. I didn’t know that the people of Puerto Rico never received all the government funds that they were promised when the plight of the people ceased to be a hot topic in the news cycle years ago called Hurricane Maria. All I remembered was the outrageous gesture of Trump throwing paper towels at the people that he was addressing on his visit. Trump became the icon for all that is important is what is in the current news. He was called the Teflon President. I want to be surrounded by people who “stick.”

We have become a culture best known as fair weather friends. “I am with you win or tie.”

There are many ways that a news cycle mentality has entered our perspective on life and death.

Because I am around death so much because of the nature of my work with others, I am painfully aware that when a person loses a child, friend, or spouse, there is an explosion of people who want to help in any way that they can. As the days progress after the death of someone’s love one, in typical news cycle fashion, less and less people remain present to help. They disappear. I usually follow up after any family loss, and I find that the number one source of disbelief and pain is that people are present for the short term but are absent for the long term. Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, and Adam Grant, thought leader and Professor at Penn Wharton, were driven to share this feeling of people supporting during the short term and not the long term in a book, Option B. This book described what it was like for her, Sheryl, after her husband died suddenly.

There is an insidious reality about the creation of the news cycle and its ongoing sustainability.

They keep up this approach because it makes money. Plain and simple. You could follow up with a long-term approach to the news if you did as the BBC does. First, the BBC don’t have news people or weather people who look like they stepped off a beauty pageant runway. Recall a few weeks ago, the woman newscaster who was fired because she had gray hair. What could be more of a giveaway that we were dealing with entertainment and not an essential part of our democracy.

We don’t follow up because we have inserted into the news that Kim Kardashian has been fined for not paying a particular tax. I don’t really need to know that to be an informed citizen or get another enticing news story to keep me watching that station. I am a fan of CNN, but they are really one of the worst offenders. How often we hear that phrase, “Stay tuned because right after this break I have some breaking news.” At the end of each story there is a tagline placed there to have you go back to the station after the commercial. Only Fox News or should I say Fox Right Wing Entertainment is the worst. Even the programming of CNN is done by repeating the news in 20 minutes segments on certain days.

All of this shapes our view of life! In bioethics we have two ways of viewing decision making, short term and long term. We need to make a cultural shift to helping people see others in a long-term capacity. Where you also see this clearly is the way we treat people who join a team or organization, anything where they are announced with a trump-et (pun included) fanfare and are “flash in the pan” people, good for the starting line but hard to find at the finish line.

Let me tell you about someone who doesn’t live his life as a news cycle. He is one of my closest friends. When he makes a commitment to others, he “sticks.” He has been diagnosed with a very difficult form of cancer to cure, but in past years he committed to riding his bike many miles to support a cure for a terrible disease that causes its victims to die early. Even though he was undergoing rigorous chemotherapy, a few weeks ago he went to this bike event to support this important cause. No one would know if he was there or not, but he knew. He was so weak and ill that he couldn’t ride his bike, but there was another option for people. Folks could also opt to walk a mile. I don’t know how he did it, but he did.

This is one of the aspects of our relationship that is important to us. We know that no matter what, we will be there for each other. That’s what life is like when you refuse to live a life like a news cycle. He and I are in it for the long haul for better or worse.

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