We have what I would call an “alphabet soup” of news channels: ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX, CNBC, MSNBC, BBC, CBN, NPR, and PBS, among many others! In written media, we also have TIME, NEWSWEEK, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, USA TODAY, THE ATLANTIC, THE WASHINGTON POST, THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, and the one that pegs itself as “the daily diary of the American Dream” – THE WALL STREET JOURNAL!
Altogether there are more than 8,500 magazines and newspapers vying for our attention. In addition, there are numerous radio stations that broadcast nothing but “news” 24-hours-a -day! Satellites provide 24-hours-a-day TV news for cable television! There are even (scattered in among the 2,300 TV channels available to us) 24-hours-a-day weather channels! Greatest of all is the Internet, which has long since become the dominant source of news in the world. Above every media outlet listed above, social media sits atop the news-cycle throne. Most of us turn to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to read the headlines, in addition to hundreds of thousands of other media websites and podcasts available to us.
News, News, News
From morning to night, we are saturated with news. We look at our phones first thing in the morning to find out what went on while we were sleeping (just in case we missed something big!), and we conclude the day with scrolling through our phone just before going to bed (just in case we missed something even bigger!). We are, as a nation, massive consumers of so-called “news.”
What is news? Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), the nineteenth century British writer, said “news” was “literature in a hurry.” The highly respected news anchorman for NBC and ABC for more than fifty years, the late David Brinkley (1920-2003) said “news” is “the first draft of history.” A contemporary network news director recently said, “news is whatever we choose to put on the air.” Sometimes “news” is manufactured, like a staged event to get publicity; sometimes it is nothing more than entertainment, like the sensational stuff that in “the good old days” was once exclusively the domain of the supermarket tabloids; and sometimes news is nothing more than information, like: “Good morning! It is 7:25 a.m. and the temperature outside in 65 degrees.”
Simply put, for the average American, news is something interesting and unusual that connects in some way with one’s life, whether it be news about crimes, accidents, hurricanes, sports, celebrities, politics, deaths, war, labor strikes, public corruption, or anything else. A lot of news is fragile; it comes apart in your head. A lot of it is discomforting; we would rather not hear too much of it. But all in all, we like news and we desire it – in an incredible measure.
In the New Testament, the term “good news” comes from the Greek word evangelion. In the Latin it is the word evangelium. It comes into old English as “god-spell” or “good tidings.” No matter how you look at it, however, it all comes out to be “good news” or simply “gospel.” That is, specifically the good news of salvation given to us by God’s grace through faith in his Son Jesus Christ.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul preached these words in Antioch:
“And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus…from the dead.”Acts 13:32-34
Paul and the other apostles reported to their world the good news of what God had done through Christ. It is the best piece of “good news” the world has ever had, but hard to get across. Good news just doesn’t seem to be all that interesting to most people.
Do you ever see or hear a news headline that says: JONES FAITHFUL TO WIFE? Of course, you don’t. What we get is a headline like this: WIFE SHOOTS HUSBAND AND MISTRESS. The sensuous and one time pop queen, Madonna, fickle and selfish, fascinated millions in the 1980’s and the 1990’s, but the devout, selfless, Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) was perceived to be about as exciting as a Girl Scout cookie. People who are truly righteous are less “news- and gossip-worthy” than those who are not. Thus, we have the problem of both news anchors and preachers: How can we make good news interesting? Good news is by definition less news than bad news.
Some thirty-five years ago, KIRO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Seattle, publicized itself as the city’s “good news” station and ran at least one story labeled that way each evening on the six o’clock news. They went as far as to place a GOOD NEWS sign behind the anchorman – apparently for those in the listening audience who couldn’t immediately tell the difference. The station allotted more than $100,000.00 during the first “good news” year to publicize its new emphasis, including major ads in newspapers and billboards throughout the city.
According to the TV ratings services (the holy writ of TV executives) KIRO’s local audience was the lowest of the three major network stations when the campaign began. The station predicted it would rise to number one. But, after a year-and-a-half of “good news,” KIRO was where it started out in the ratings – dead last.
Across the country, other stations which adopted variations of KIRO’s GOOD NEWS policy reported increases in the size of the listening audience in the first few months. Then ratings quickly trailed off.
A more recent example is actor John Krasinski’s 2020 project, “Some Good News” – a YouTube channel dedicated to highlighting heartwarming news stories at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. The initial episodes were extremely popular, gaining over 10 million views. But, after a year of publishing on the “Some Good News Network”, Krasinski sold the show to CBS, after which the popularity declined, and new episodes were no longer published.
The conclusion: We Americans basically get bored with “good news” and despite what we grumble about concerning “negative news,” we are clearly more turned on by it.
Conveying the Real News
In trying to convey the “good news,” the great apostles Peter and Paul and the other leaders and preachers of the early Church had the same problem with their Greek and Jewish audiences that we twenty-first century preachers have with ours. They did the best they could, as we must. The main thing is to be faithful in conveying the real news, the Good News of God in Christ, hoping enough seed will take root in fertile soil and flourish.
God has given the world the greatest gift. Not everyone has heard that good news. Some have heard the words but not caught the reality – many from right in a church pew. It must be told and re-told, as the apostles did in the New Testament, over and over and over again.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).
Now, that is good news!