Our too fast news cycle

For many years of my life, my day began with the morning newspaper. That habit has changed in recent years simply because the newspaper is no longer news. The Internet delivers the news faster and more reliably than print media. Our local newspaper might occasionally have in coverage of a local news story, but they will have published that story online before the paper can be delivered to me. I’m coming very close to simply cancelling the local newspaper. Daily delivery is close to $400 per year. That does, however, include unlimited access to the Washington Post web site, which is a benefit.

So these days I frequently scan the headlines in a half dozen news sites as I begin my day. I read about what is going on. Lately, however, I am beginning to worry about myself. I think that in some ways I am becoming numb to the news. The scandals out of our government come so quickly that one fades before it is investigated. It used to be that a racist or curse-filled comment from a Washington DC official would dominate the news for a while while an investigation was undertaken. These days the story makes the headlines one day and is seemingly forgotten the next. Allegations of politicians and prostitutes don’t even seem ti pique the interests of reporters these days.

Yesterday, I woke to the news of a major earthquake and a tsunami warning off of the coast of Alaska. There were tsunami watches as far away as California. The tsunamis never developed, thank goodness, but the story doesn’t even appear in today’s headlines.

Yesterday, in Benton, Kentucky, a 15-year-old student entered the high school with a hand gun just before 8 am. He fired shots that struck 14 people and set off a panicked flight in which five more were hurt. Two students are dead. Of the 18 people injured, five remain in critical condition. It was shocking. It was horrible. It was enough to make us think of Columbine and Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary.

It was also the 11th school shooting in the United States in 2018. It was January 23rd. That’s right the average is nearly one every-other day.

The shooting will last forever in the minds of those who witnessed the carnage. It will alter the lives of those involved forever. It will be forgotten by the nation in days and overshadowed by another shooting in weeks.

I am worried that I am becoming numb to the suffering of others.

On Tuesday, it was a high school in small-town Kentucky. On Monday, a school cafeteria outside Dallas and a charter school parking lot in New Orleans. Before that it was a school bus in Iowa, a college campus in Southern California, a high school in Seattle . . . roughly 50 school shootings in this academic year.

I can’t keep track of them all.

I don’t want to be numb to the tragedy of school shootings. I don’t want to ignore the suffering of victims and their families. I don’t want to be blind to the terror.

But the news cycle is so fast and so filled with shocking events that we are becoming numb.

Yesterday’s shooting was less than an hour’s drive away from Paducah, where about 20 years ago three people were killed and five more injured when a student opened fire into a prayer circle. It was big news at the time. I had nearly forgotten it when I was reading of yesterday’s incident. I might have not remembered had not a news story I read mentioned it.

So how do we balance our desire to remain informed with our need to take a break from the constant barrage of the news? How do we avoid becoming so saturated with shocking news that we lose our ability to be shocked?

Even as I try to carefully nurture my compassion and empathy for victims and their families, I know that if we have a period without shooting incidents, complacency is not far behind. As soon as there is a lull in shootings, school officials are distracted by other needs and concerns. Active shooter trainings and drills are at best imperfect and the flaws of such exercises are easy to discern, so there is a tendency to do nothing, which also isn’t the right approach.

I know that I don’t have the answers.

I meet regularly with colleagues to study books and discuss the Bible. We try each week to make connections between our faith, our vocation as pastors, and the events of our community, state and nation. Most weeks we begin with a kind of litany of the highlights of the week’s news. We can easily fall into complaining about all of the scandals and visible examples of poor judgment. We are easily overwhelmed.

But we keep on meeting. We keep on speaking of faith to our congregations. We keep on telling the stories of Jesus. We refuse to let the stories of tragedy be the final words on the human condition in our time.

So, for a moment, I’m going back to the story of the shootings in Benton, Kentucky. The victims were real people, with names, thoughts, identities, all their own. Bailey Nicole Holt died at the scene. Preston Ryan Cope died of his injuries at a hospital. They are more than statistics. They are not just more numbers. They are unique individuals who held great promise and whose loss will be mourned. Their families will never recover from the traumatic loss and shock of yesterday’s events. This is not something that you can get over. You get through it with the love and prayers and support of a community, but you never get over it. Their life stories have now taken a turn not of their choosing, but unavoidable nonetheless. I am praying for those family members. I am hoping that the day will come when they realize that these two precious lives were not lost in vain. May their memories become their friends and their lives become signs that God’s gift of live has the final victory.

And, I pray that I will not become numb to their story. May I not forget. May I do everything in my power to prevent future tragedies similar to theirs.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!