The news cycle problem

December 11, 2017
 by Paul McGowan

Listen to the news, read the forums, react to a sensational headline, find overblown news stories on Facebook, and you might be afraid to walk outside. There just could be a war zone around the block.

Yet, walking outside you see an entirely different view: the sun is shining, people appear to be at peace and going about their daily lives as if the headlines didn’t exist. And, in fact, they don’t. Not really.

Our over-connected world gives us a very narrow view of daily life. News of a fire here, an accident there, a war in some faraway place collected together and presented in a way that makes it all seem immediate and just around the bend doesn’t accurately portray what’s happening in most of the world. It’s a microcosm trying to explain a macro universe.

When we attempt to find out how others feel about a product or service we turn to reviews and public information places like forums. There we can see the opinions of the few who have posted their thoughts. But those few are exactly that: the vocal, the opinion makers, the happy, the dissatisfied, the angry, the overjoyed. In short, the posters are the exceptions.

Our forums or YouTube channel are a great example of this. Look at any popular category and compare the number of viewers to the posters. The ratios are often 10,000:1 which means for every 1 post there are 10,000 views. That’s a lot of people absorbing the opinions of a handful of people.

I like reviews too, but I try and to turn off the news and walk outside. It’s a big world out there.

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39 comments on “The news cycle problem”

  1. I agree.

    Reading or watching news or reviews should include the knowledge, ability or just a feeling how to classify and rank them. This can be difficult in subjects like high end audio where there’s little possibility of other knowledge exchange than by those news and reviews for many, especially and in addition if someone has only little own experience.

    Just today we can read worldwide, that the current president of the US gathers information and builds his opinion mainly upon watching his favorite TV channels for 4-8 hours a day. Sounds strange… if only half of it is true that’s still not what I think he should do as a major leader of the world…how small are our problems around high end audio 😉

    1. That’s a big problem. Should politicians being responsible for the welfare of their nation do their daily job or produce daily spectacles for the show biz like news channels? Nobody is interested in the daily sometimes boring exercises and training sessions of a superstar but the game or the premiere has to be spectacular or stellar. Thus there is a trend for insane extremes neglecting instead of keeping the golden mean or general goal. Same trend for stereo systems. It seems that it is much easier to focus and follow a single aspect fully neglecting the rest than to manage a complex system holistically.

  2. The main reason I read reviews is because there is no local brick & mortar store to go. As an example, there is no PSAudio dealer near me…and I’m in a major US city. The industry is also going to more “internet only” based companies, where you can’t really hear their equipment anywhere.

    When I started, there were a bunch audio stores that carried different brands. You could listen to most brands locally in a properly setup room. If you liked what you heard, many would have a demo unit to take home and try. You can now order items online, have them shipped to your home, audition them and then send them back if you don’t like them. That, however, is a pain. Many of the companies have restock fees or want you to pay the shipping for returns.

    It is an environment where there is a tremendous number of options, with no practical way to audition any of them. The only way I can determine if an item is of interest is to read reviews or go to trade shows like RMAF.

    1. That’s it–trade shows. There are now so many of them that the manufacturers have to be selective about which ones to attend or support by partially subsidizing a dealer who is attending. Take a couple of days and fly to a distant city. When you’re spending thousands (or tens of thousands) the cost of attending is money well spend. And take some coin/checkbook/credit card with you, as presenters often sell off their show samples at a discounted price.

  3. I saw in the news there’s some guy who’s a child molester and racist who’d like to see the return of slavery, and POTUS wants him elected to pass a tax law to make the rich richer. I saw a picture of him and he looks like the sheriff on that programme Dukes of Hazard I watched as a kid. I could sit at home and watch all this stuff or go out for a walk. Even if it’s snowing and cold its preferable. It was wonderful. The wife chose to stay in bed.
    There’s no law that you have to do twitter, facebook and all that stuff. I don’t. I met a nice chap yesterday building an igloo with his kids. You don’t get that on snapchat.
    As for reviews, they are useful if they actually tell you what something does and if it is user-friendly. Andrew Everard is an expert at that. I find the best judge of the merit of something is its second hand price compared to current list price. That method is pretty infallible. It also saves reading a lot of drivel about reviewer’s favourite records that you’ve never heard of and don’t care about, when he (and it’s never a she) doesn’t tell you if the remote control is any good or if the thing runs hot or cold.

  4. Paul – recalls to mind years ago when my parents retired. I visited, and they had developed a morning habit of turning on the small TV in the kitchen, tuned to one Sally-Jessy/Oprah-type show after another. From that constant input, they had developed the notion that the World had become a very unhinged place, full of woe and crazy people in conflict.

    It happened that a buddy of mine’s girlfriend worked for the Oprah show at the time, and her FULL TIME JOB, and that of several other staffers, was to find people who were controversial enough for on reason or another, but not SO nutty that they couldn’t sustain an appearance on TV. It was work finding and vetting these people. An Oprah was far from the most controversial show.

    Used to be you would go your whole life never knowing the peccadilloes, scandals and murders of even the next town over, never mind the entire planet, 24/7. I tried to assure my parents that the world hadn’t really changed that much – we just hear a lot more gossip than before. People have been doing the same stuff for eons.

  5. I dont think Paul is saying abstain from news and reviews just contextualize the feedback and judge for yourself if you need to limit your intake. Headlines alone are enough for me to skip most news stories as they are provocative in a devisive sense.

    With a smaller brick and mortar footprint we have to be creative consumers listening to friends systems, drive to visit showrooms, triangulation of reviews & testing in home is a pain but the best way to know performance in your system and room.

    In the remaining days of this month try raise a smile, lend a hand and spread some joy; don’t let the negativity from the connected world steal your joy. Finally in the last 2 weeks I got to see a concert with Michael W Smith and Jordan Smith (what a voice) and yesterday an Appalachian nativity. Its great to see as well as hear live performances. Love this time of year

    1. Let us all commit random acts of Kindness with Impugnity! : )

      (Is that how you spell it? Looks like “I lost my Pug” ; )

      Really interesting article I read recently about how READING someone’s statement can be utterly different than SEEING them say it. I had recently had that experience, reading a politician’s stupid statement, day after day – then I finally saw the video it was taken from, and it UTTERLY changed the meaning of it. Kinda the problem these days. You don’t get the whole message if you aren’t actually standing in front of a human, where you get the shrug of the shoulders, the ironic twinkle in the eye or voice, etc.

      1. Peace, is that you Jeff?

        The only “high end” store here is Best Buy’s Magnolia Room. My friends, like me, build most of their audio equipment. There is a circuit designer who worked for a magnetics and super conductor company in Oak Ridge, a speaker designer who has had his own speaker company for 35 years (also designed all the phase coherent crossovers for John Fuselier’s speaker line), a kit & scratch amp/preamp builder and a 30 year speaker builder (no company).

        Disbursed through these systems are select purchased electronics.

        But the point is that the 3 or 4 retailers that used to exist here have all gone. This hobby attracts a much smaller number and percentage of the youth (20 something) market than it did in the 70s.

        I’m careful about reading reviews on the internet. I have a list of rules. This is #5:

        5. Any idiot can post on the internet. Some have a lot of money.

        Internet reviews must be from known professional review sites. Otherwise you don’t know what biases the reviewer carries with him.

        Just IMHO.

  6. I recently saw an online article of “The 8 best speakers in the world” or something along those lines. As I recall Bose made the list twice, JBL twice, Polk maybe once and I can’t remember the rest. Yeah, LOL. Much news is sensationslized bullshit anymore, just like that review. Like the Eagles song says- “Journalism’s dead and gone.” And as a customer with different political views than myself said last night- and she was right on one thing in my opinion, the pendulum just keeps swinging too hard back and forth with each new president or politician undoing what the last one did, whether it was good or bad and what we really need to do is get on one good track and stay the course.
    My suggestion is people watch CNN, FOX, and MSNBC equally and you will find out over the course of about a year which snakes are the lying bastards spreading fake news.
    I also suggest that people get as fired up over $18,000 horse shit overpriced Emergency room visits as they do over being flirted with inappropriately 10 or 40 years ago so that our average insurance premiums are not $1,000/mo if you make over something like $48,000/yr. Thanks Obama. Oh yeah good thing we didn’t get to keep our doctors like we were told while our premiums doubled over the past years. There are a great number of BIG issues that need to be addressed and dealt with. Reporters lying to the American people should be close to the top of the list so that we can make educated decisions on real news. Impose massive, damaging fines on fake news and these shitheads might quit lying to us. Maybe. I try not to watch the news anymore, and like Paul enjoy the walk outside so to speak because no matter how much I tortured myself over the past years watching all those news channels I felt like my views and voice made little difference. But the reality is we need to get informed with the truth, collectively speak up about some of these things and get things to a better place. Our world can be a great place. Ok. I’m finished.

    1. Under the Communications Acts of the New Deal, broadcasters were required to provide impartial news as a service to the public in exchange for the privilege of selling ads. The FCC could revoke broadcast licenses and demand firing for lying to the public or egregious mistakes. This broke down 50 years ago. Tripping down the slippery slope over “60 Minutes”, the first profitable newscast, the evil corruption of money took over the news and the regulations fell away.

      Starting with Reagan and finishing with Clinton, the legal safeguards against mind control were removed. Today all broadcast news is fake news, whether intentional or not. For starters, eyewitness reporting was outlawed for war and military interventions after it almost got Peace candidate Eugene McCarthy elected President.

      Now we get studio talking heads for nearly all reporting. The Beeb still has reporters on the ground in war zones, but US reporting is all physically constrained and slanted by State and Defense Departments, together with dis-information campaigns by the “Intelligence Services”.

      There is also a strong pro-corporate bias in all broadcast news, soft pedalling environmental crises and corporate malfeasance, which generally are diffuse but also well deflected from reporters.

      We now have the means for citizen reporting. Half the world carries a connected video camera in their phone. There needs to be curation – I find 90% of positive news as misleading as the 10% of news that is negative and accounts for 90% of content.

      Looking for ideas here! This forum is the best I have found, a great brain trust of inquisitive minds with a strong desire for impartial information and open ears to reason as well as good sound.

  7. Context is certainly important. If you say, “Best speakers that Everyone Has Heard of for X Amount of Money”, then maybe it’s true for a lot of folks. I got a phone call years back to participate in a survey on “High End Audio Components”. I was surprised and pleased to get the call (this was back when many people still used telephones to communicate via voice).

    They asked what brands I had, and I think at the time I said, “Krell, VTL, Rega, Benz Micro, etc.”. She told me, “None of those are on the list”. I asked what was? Bose, Sony, Yamaha, etc. I told her, “Those aren’t High End”. But I’m in a tiny minority in that elitist notion ; )

    I got into it a bit with Paul recently for his statement along the lines of, “The iPhone is better than any professional camera out there”. We went back and forth a bunch until he qualified it with, “..that fits in your pocket, for doing YouTube videos” : )

    1. I was struck, when looking at the Flickr link Steven posted earlier, by the high quality of (most of) the photographs. I believe him to be a camera buff. I take a lot of photos, but I am a ‘social record’ photographer and whilst I don’t use a smartphone, I have a small Sony compact dialed down to 3Mp because it has to fit in a bum bag. For pictures of fat old blokes sitting at their bike club nights, fat old blokes standing by their motorbikes, and fat old blokes stuffing all-day breakfasts at transport cafes they have ridden to on their motorbikes, good picture quality is not needed. In fact, in the latter case when the lens tends to mist up after coming in from the cold, the soft focus is probably doing them a service!

      1. The good thing about good optics is that there is no BS or “game-changing” rubbish that you get with audio. Yesterday I was using two lenses, a 50/1.4, the current version has been in production since 2004 and the version before that from 1961. So over 40 years without an update.
        The other lens was a Summaron 5.6/28, a reissue of a design from 1955, so over 60 years old. It is an extremely small lens with optics not much bigger than on some mobile phones and on a full frame body can fit into your trouser pocket, very easily in a coat pocket. It is technically a flawed lens, which adds character and is why people like it. A bit like valves in amplifiers. (This image I posted has a lot of vignetting. That is natural to the lens at f5.6 and f8. I had to tell my computer not to remove it.)
        Yesterday I was using a Leica M10. No video. For that you need an iphone.

    2. I participate in a lot of music video capture, and I can assure you that professional video cameras get better results than phone cameras, even after editing and file compression for YouTube (which is bad for your eyes, ears and brain). I sometimes use my LG G3 phone as a second or third camera for these shoots, and it is good enough to cover gaps for pans, battery or memory change but takes work for color correction and has focusing anomalies.

      Phones are more convenient and can be run by unskilled operators, and unfortunately we are now socialized to accept the shortcomings since far more footage is available coming from phones and pocket cameras than from pro cameras. But hey, semi-pro cameras are now cheaper than phones!

      1. ‘Vox – Sometimes I worry about you, you crazy effing hippie. (Nota bene – SUPER IRONIC statement, there)

        Only sometimes, though. I am a video producer by profession, and everybody (including Paul) knows that pro cameras are better. He owns and uses more cameras, still and video, than your Average Joe. But they don’t necessarily fit in your pocket on a trip to Japan.

        I realize it may seem that I overuse the Smiley and Winky since Paul took away our emoticons here, but I in fact rarely use them frivolously. They are usually intended to indicate (to me anyways) “Haha – get it?” And/or the “Knowing wink” which infers/assumes the reader is not stupid.

        I am as much concerned (or perhaps more so) than the next guy about the YouTube-ization of professional and corporate video. Though perhaps most of us are significantly more Dain Bramaged than those who grew up in the forest. I’m hoping to move there soon, so I may be able to heal : )

        (no, wait – I’m not actually kidding about that. That was a completely un-ironic smiley)

        1. I am a card-carrying hippie, even though hippies have imaginary cards. I was at Woodstock before the music started, and stayed until after it ended. That transformative experience showed the potential, as Marvin Gaye said:

          “We don’t need to escalate,
          Only love can conquer hate”.

          This was specifically co-opted by media control. Of late my favorite conspiracy theorist opined that the deprecation of pop culture quality was intentional, feeding our youth ear candy instead of the fish, dairy and vegetable brain food of acoustic Folk, Classical and Jazz.

          They have effectively quashed protest music – it’s out there, but does not get heard.

          1. Well, I’ve been increasingly dismayed by it, due to no Nouvelle Vague happening in my life or coming recently that compares, but it turns out we grew up in One Of Those Times when there was Way More Good Music Than Usual. Like the 1930s, or Mozart’s time (I was bad at History…drawing a blank on his decades). Paul – when was Cosi, etc?

            It’s sort of like we all figured we would have flying cars and be travelling on Pan Am to the Moon Colonies by this point. It was an atypical period.

            Get it together, kids! : )

            1. So Avox – who was your favorite band at Woodstock? And how do you deal with the fact (assuming you were not onstage, getting the Direct Feed from the Various Separate Speakers/Amplifiers/Drums, etc.) that you were hearing Awful Public Address System sound which warped, distorted and damaged your senses, emotions and hearing, etc….

              Answer carefully, cuz if you were on a Bummer when Hendrix played, it may come to fisticuffs! ; )

              And I “say” again, ; )

          2. FWIW, the Rock Hall has a nice exhibit on Rolling Stone magazine on the upper floors, if by chance you’re passing through Cleveland during the holidays

  8. The news headlines can be a nuisance. Whenever the ABC Evening News spews its soundbites you’d think the sky is falling. I live in L.A. There are wildfires in the region. ABC presents the fires in soundbite fashion with inferno visuals: “Deadly fires reach the heart of Los Angeles; thousands fleeing their homes; freeways shut down; area declared a disaster, no end in sight.” I then have to explain to concerned relatives across the country that the fires are miles away from where I live and that I cannot even see any smoke on the horizon. It is indeed a big world out there.

  9. Tech Visionary Jaron Lanier explains in this video how algorithmic monetization of eyeballs leads to a vicious circle of negative emotions. He further points out that this aspect of the Internet was predicted in Norbert Wiener’s 1950 book “The Human Use of Human Beings”.

    This is covered near the end of Part 1, and expounded further in Part 2. The synopsis is that negative emotions are more engaging than positive emotions, and engagement sells ads. This further applies to prior interactive mass media: newspapers and magazines, junk mail lists, ad supported broadcast, Nielson ratings, etc.

    I feel this asymmetry is largely because positive emotions are flattened by post-industrial civilization. Sensory deprivation of direct human input makes us feel isolated, which increases cruelty, hate, anger, violence, drug addiction and mental illness. Sensory deprivation and negative emotions also stunt brain development in children and shrink brains in adults!

    We need to gather in communities to talk, sing, play, laugh, hug and dance together. Tribal religions did this on lunar cycles, often broken into weeks, which is a mental cycle of moon phases. Taking the seventh day off is a mental health issue, as is social interaction in groups.

    The substitution of collapsed families for tribes, motorized transport for walking, running, climbing and swimming, rectangular flat walls with uniform color for fractal forests and hills, computers, phones and television for face-to-face human interaction, the constant intrusion of noise pollution, the acoustics of drywall traded for trees, meadows, canyons and shores; and also the substitution of audio for the sounds of Nature and live acoustic music.

    We have all chosen to do something about the latter, but the quest to close the gap necessitates comparing reproduction to live music, like Vilchur & Allison, Dunlavy, Linkwitz and the few designers who play music like Mark Levinson and Steve Haas. Besides, listening to live acoustic music is potentially the best “tweak”. Loading your brain with memories of real music gives you more positive emotional links of being among people for the psycho-acoustic triggers of audio reproduction – and if it does not, then your content or system are lacking.

  10. Hi Paul,

    I have to disagree with your comment that those posting on forums, at least as specifically applied to those on your PS Audio forums, are “the extremes.” You made that comment before to a poster in one of your forums who had asked about the DMP (if I recall correctly).

    Having observed for some years as a member, people who participate in your forums are passionate about audio — particularly your products. Yes, a wide spectrum of opinion is presented, which helps fuel the conversation and educate (to some extent). They are looking for and are generally happy to have found “community,” and this forum is the new corner store or brick and mortar. But they (we) are the representative mob…not the extreme.

    1. Agreed and perhaps “extremes” has a connotation I did not intend. I know many of the regular posters on a personal basis and none are extreme – rather they are the norm and much valued.

      Not sure how else I could have said what I wanted using a different word, but I get the meaning change. THEY are not extreme. The few posters (compared to the many readers) are the exception not the rule. Perhaps “exception” might have been a better choice of words.

      1. I like it when you call us “extreme.” I also like it when you call us “exceptional.” I do not accept that we are “normal.” But I understand your dilemma. There is no word in the dictionary to describe us.

  11. Well put.

    As a former journalist, I’m a news junkie but have to force myself to regulate it at times.

    I’m not sure humans are wired for processing all this information (TV, Radio, Internet, Social Media).

  12. Fake news, fake people, fake technology, lies, hype, coverups, wild exaggerations, you don’t know what to believe anymore. Nothing is what it appears to be. No one can be trusted. People lie about anything and everything without a care even if they are caught. It is remarkable that the world still exists. Finding out what is really true is no longer an easy task. You have to mine for it, sift through it, and try to decide what makes sense and what doesn’t. People are easily fooled. It hardly matters what area you are talking about either. Lying has become the dominant culture in the world and people who tell the truth are fools. There’s no money in the truth. If you want to know the truth, get the worst news you can find and multiply it by ten. Corruption starts from the top down. Corporate executives, government officials, the military, the police, everyone. At no time in human history has a government been more corrupt than the one we had during the eight years of the Obama administration and the corruption was in both political parties. They are still clinging on for dear life trying to save their own hides. Even the people trying to bring them to justice are corrupt. You have to wonder if the world will end.

  13. Great article and like others I believe we need to not go into information overload. As always, the world seems to be in constant conflict and there is danger outside of our door. One nice thing I like about where I live is people always wave to one another and converse in a civil tongue.

    In terms of audio, what makes a great system is really determined by each listener. I have heard a $300k system and would not rate it over my humble system.

    I don’t agree with all that Paul says but he is great audiophile teacher with tons of experience!

    Much thanks for sharing your knowledge, experience, and humor.

  14. Wow! Many early risers . With the state of the news reporting as it currently is, one can certainly suggest improvements the type and impact of which would depend on the commenting news consumer. I was in Manila at the end of the Marcos regime in the early 80’s and had occasion to learn of major protests/riots less than three blocks from my very nice international hotel. My news source was an old Time magazine on the plane home. Reading complementary local newspapers handed out daily in the lobby did not indicate any problems-only how great Marcos was for the “people” and ads for VD clinics. Cab drivers were instructed how to avoid the action. I am thankful that the Marcos model is not followed here.

  15. Soundminded came out late but didn’t disappoint. There are good stories and great people doing things in the world putting others before self or putting their lives at risk to protect the public. What is not new is the media wont show those stories except for few exceptions (maybe we have some blame for consuming what they’ve been putting down all these years).

    Brian Ross is on forced Holiday… look it up if you dont know that story. There is a ton of fake news and I think the big outlets should be called “chain yankers” as they even triggered Steven across the ocean. I do believe we found common ground here today – we should fact check or give stories some breathing room and limit intake of the news. Don’t let them anger or provoke you too far. And let’s hope the Russians love their children too…

  16. Wow Paul,

    This one lit up the board. My view of my daily life changed significantly after I STOPPED watching TV.

    The polarized political climate just creates BS. I would much rather listen to great music.

    Thanks for a great blog. It is a nice break in my daily routine, I read every day.

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