Welcome to Cooler Heads Prevail.
My name is Mark. I spent a good chunk of my professional life as a producer and writer of television news, documentaries and entertainment programming. I wouldn’t call myself a “media insider”; I’m just a guy who worked in various chambers of the machine. I’m also a 25+ year student of Taoism and t’ai chi, both of which inform my thoughts and actions.
Here’s what Cooler Heads Prevail will not do:
- Report news stories
- Offer opinions on news stories
- Fact-check news stories
Here’s what Cooler Heads Prevail will do:
- Help people understand how news media works
- Help people understand how to filter the news they receive and put it in context
- Help people define a course of action based on centeredness, not emotion
I hope this approach will provide a fresh perspective that enables people to analyze media more effectively and form opinions more consciously. To start, let’s take those three bullet points one at a time:
How news media works
Inside the news business, information comes thick and fast from all sides, all day long, even on slow days. A developing story often appears as a series of partial views of a bigger picture. All kinds of judgements need to be made: Is this source trustworthy? Does this piece of information come with a hidden agenda attached to it?
Working in news is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without having the box cover photo to guide you. In a perfect world, the news media’s job is to assemble that puzzle and place it in a context that’s understandable and relevant to the general public.
But that’s in a perfect world. In the real world, news is a business, just like professional sports, and it’s just as competitive. Even the best journalists at the best news outlets are subject to external factors that have little to do with actual reporting, like ratings and revenue generation. The drive to get the story first often supersedes the need to get the story right. And unlike sports, getting a news story to the finish line fastest doesn’t make you the best journalist.
It would be grossly inaccurate to say that nobody in media cares about the truth, but news reporting necessarily has to happen before the full story is clear. As a result, the audience gets served a steady stream of partial and sometimes blurry pictures, to say nothing of manufactured “fake news” that further muddies the water. This leads to public opinion and personal perspectives being shaped based on incomplete or inaccurate information.
How to filter the news
It’s no surprise that media can create anger, confusion, stress, and even potential danger to life and limb. That’s because much of the news media today does not exist to provide actual news. It exists for three reasons:
- To reinforce the pre-existing beliefs of a specific target audience
- To advance the narrative or the wishful thinking of the individual who creates it
- To make money for the media’s owner, overtly or covertly
To achieve those ends, media creators generally do one of two things:
- Exclude or minimize elements that don’t support a predetermined narrative, even if those elements are true and relevant
- Include or exaggerate elements that support the narrative, regardless of their basis in fact and regardless of whether or not those elements actually belong to the same story
It’s also important to understand that not every ripple in the news pond requires a full response. Most of those ripples are byproducts of a stone splashing in the pond somewhere else, and some are simply distractions. To really understand the larger context of any news story, the public’s focus needs to be on the stone, not the ripples.
Acting from a calm center
When people understand a news story’s place in the bigger picture, it enables them to make smarter choices about whether they need to effect social change, and if so, where their actions will make the greatest impact. The alternative is that they burn themselves out from the stress of chasing every ripple, or they choose a course of action that ultimately does their cause more harm than good.
From working in live television control rooms, I learned that heightened emotions don’t help when accurate choices need to be made. From Taoism and t’ai chi, I learned to breathe. When people face important decisions, in media and in real life, finding a center and assessing a situation calmly before taking action always helps to illuminate the best way forward.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for your interest.
You may not always agree with the ideas that will be expressed here, and that’s great. I don’t believe everyone should think the way I do, or think the same way in general. Freedom of thought is a cornerstone of our rights, and I welcome your discussion or respectful debate about anything posted in these pages.
I’m launching this blog in the weeks before the start of Donald Trump’s presidency. While it’s likely that what’s discussed here initially will be related to current American politics, it’s not going to be the sole focus. The Tao is all-inclusive; Cooler Heads Prevail will be as well.