Union University
Union University Dept of Language


No News is Good News

Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship

June 15, 2010 - In his trenchant critique of our media-saturated culture, Neil Postman observed that the phrase “Now . . . this” adds “to our grammar a new part of speech, a conjunction that does not connect anything to anything but does the opposite: separates everything from everything.” Postman continues:

“’Now . . . this’ is commonly used on radio and television newscasts to indicate that what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what one is about to hear or see, or possibly to anything one is ever likely to hear or see. The phrase is a means of acknowledging the fact that the world as mapped by the speeded-up electronic media has no order or meaning and is not to be taken seriously. There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political blunder so costly – for that matter, no ball score so tantalizing or weather report so threatening – that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, ‘Now . . . this.’ The newscaster means that you have thought long enough on the previous matter (approximately forty-five seconds), that you must now be morbidly preoccupied with it (let us say, for ninety seconds), and then you must now give your attention to another fragment of news or a commercial.”

Postman wrote this in 1985. Since then the fundamental grammar of electronic news media has not changed. Though one might argue that the lingo has undergone a slight shift from “Now . . . this” to “Up next” (or “When we come back”). If there have been any changes at all since 1985, they have been these: an exponential increase in both the volume of “news” information available and the speed with which it may be transmitted through increasing forms of media outlets, and a corresponding decrease in the quantity of time devoted to any single “news” item. The confluence of these two changes has merely intensified the separation of “everything from everything” about which Postman wrote in 1985.

It’s time for some honesty. The “news” – especially as mediated through television – is completely and utterly pointless. It is meaningless drivel that is not about anything.

Our failure to grasp this is merely a function of our inability to reflect deeply on the meaning of life. Pause for a moment to do so. Be honest with yourself. Would your life be significantly less meaningful or fulfilled if you never knew the gory details of Joran van der Sloot’s latest killing or about the latest involving Lindsay Lohan’s SCRAM bracelet? (Admit it; you’re now tempted to Google “SCRAM bracelet”!)

The reality is that almost everything that passes for “news” has nothing to do with anything. The knowledge of such nonsense is not in any way connected with living a meaningful human life – much less a Christian life. And yet, we can’t seem to turn off the television. [Insert repentance here.]