Pandemic Chronicles #2: Turning off the TV news coverage has made me better informed and less anxious
Television news coverage and commentary are designed to get an emotional rise out of us. They can inform but also inflame. That’s how they get and keep viewers and thus build their ratings. At the start of the coronavirus crisis, I found myself watching a lot of TV news programming. And with it rose my anxiety levels, without necessarily feeling better informed.
During the past week or so, however, I’ve cut my TV news viewing to a bare minimum. I’ve limited most of my television time to binge-viewing great television series. (For example, I’m delighted to recommend “Foyle’s War” — a crime drama set in WWII-era England — for its depiction of history, appealing characters, and rich story lines.)
I subscribe to a lot of newspapers, magazines, and periodicals, both online and in print. I also listen to radio news coverage. I’m a news junkie, and I like to be an informed citizen. Furthermore, my work as a law professor and legal scholar requires me to be well-informed.
Because of the coronavirus, however, my focus has become more intensely local. While I’m interested in the national and global aspects of the pandemic, I’m now closely drawn to what’s happening in Greater Boston specifically and Massachusetts generally. I find that three regional news sources, in particular, have become lifelines for helping me stay informed about, and feel connected to, my local scene during this challenging time: The Boston Globe (daily newspaper), WBUR-FM (public radio news station), and Universal Hub (online news site).
Of course, virtually any news coverage related to this public health crisis is going to push some emotional buttons, but I’ve found myself less anxious and better informed by turning away from TV news and toward sites like the Globe, WBUR, and Universal Hub. They have also given me an even deeper appreciation for the high-quality journalism that still exists in this city, despite the challenges facing the news business. We need these resources now more than ever.
Sometimes I like to scroll through this blog for the fun of it, as if I’m walking down Memory Lane to revisit writings about Memory Lane! In addition to enjoying periodic nostalgic memories, I’m reminded of where my own cultural center of gravity is located. I am, at heart, a middlebrow kind of guy, grounded in the late 20th century. Here are 25 reasons why, many of which are drawn from previous posts:
- My MP3 music lists include the likes of 80s and 70s pop hits, old standards featuring music of the Gershwins and Cole Porter, and soundtracks & cast recordings of classic musicals by Rodgers & Hammerstein.
- I still have much of No. 1 on CDs.
- I like Stouffer’s French Bread pizza.
- I belong to the Book-of-the-Month Club and occasionally hunt down past BOMC premium books on e-Bay.
- I make my coffee using a drip coffee maker and pre-ground beans.
- Despite my dovish leanings, I enjoy watching old World War Two movies.
- I will indulge myself with an occasional Big Mac.
- I own, and sometimes even read into, a pre-owned set of the Harvard Classics.
- Give me the voices of Olivia Newton-John and Karen Carpenter over those of most of today’s female pop singers any day.
- I miss American Heritage magazine.
- I love watching re-runs of The Dick Van Dyke Show on Netflix.
- I still regard Baskin-Robbins ice cream as a treat.
- My leisure reading tastes go to mysteries and suspense, sports books (baseball, football, basketball), and popular history, as well as self-help and psychology.
- Walter Cronkite remains for me the iconic example of a television newscaster with utmost integrity.
- Given a choice, I’ll take a casual meal at a favorite diner over a fancy meal with multiple forks.
- I’ve been a steady subscriber to Sports Illustrated for decades.
- My first computer was a Commodore 64, and I got years of use and fun out of it!
- I continue to rely on Rick Steves for travel advice when planning blessed trips to Europe.
- Pumpkin pie is my favorite Thanksgiving dessert.
- Having my own personal library is deeply meaningful to me.
- Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” are simply awesome to me.
- I miss talk radio from the days before it got so politically strident and polarized.
- I regard Stephen King as one of our great contemporary storytellers.
- Growing up, I pursued hobbies such as stamp and coin collecting, science, and playing sports simulation board games — and I still do when time permits!
- There’s something thrilling and adventurous about being in a large old train station.
For the past ten days, I’ve been without a functioning television set. This is not exactly the stuff of deprivation or sacrifice, but it is a tad inconvenient, especially now that the pro and college football seasons are in full swing. Fortunately, help is on the way. The other day, I went to an electronics store and ordered a new TV — a fairly basic and surprisingly affordable widescreen model — which should be delivered and set up by the end of the week.
The TV I ordered represents my first purchase of a brand new model since buying a $99 cheapo set some 20 years ago! Every other TV has been a discard or a used one, including the 15-year-old kaput model that will be carted away soon.
Many moons ago, I didn’t even have a TV. During law school, I went without. I listened to the radio a lot, and I really enjoyed talk radio programs at a time when that genre was more conversational and fun, rather than a stream of political soapboxes. On occasion I’d go to the TV room in the law school dorm to watch a favorite program or two, or maybe one of my friends would have us over to watch something, but that was about it.
Right after law school, I was working as a Legal Aid lawyer and was barely scraping by, so I didn’t have a TV until some benevolent friends gave me an old portable black-and-white set that had been gathering dust. It may seem hard to imagine that I was quite happy with the social and entertainment options in my life at the time without cable or a VCR (these were the pre-DVD and streaming days, folks), but it really was so.
You know what I’ve rediscovered during this brief time? Listening to football games on the radio can be fun, at least when your team wins. On Saturday I was pulling for Navy to beat Temple and for Notre Dame to beat Michigan. Good results there. But my beloved Chicago Bears took it on the chin against Buffalo, and the Patriots fell apart against Miami.
The weekend reminded me of when I was a kid, listening to games on the radio during a time when lots fewer games were televised.
Of course, this time around I also have the Internet, which I periodically accessed on Sunday to follow the fortunes of my two fantasy football teams. (Two wins there, baby!)
So…radio and the Internet. Old meets new.
Practically speaking, listening to games on the radio made it easier to get some work and chores done. I’m not glued to my TV set when it’s working, but even so I realize how easy it is to dump hours into gazing at the screen. I’ll keep that in mind once my new TV arrives and everything is up and running.