The Washington Post has informed me that I’m not the only journalist with decades of experience who’s gotten pretty bloody tired of “news.”
Then one day a journalist friend confided that she was avoiding the news, too. Then I heard it from another journalist. And another. (Most were women, I noticed, though not all.) This news about disliking news was always whispered, a dirty little secret. It reminded me of the scene in “The Social Dilemma,” when all those tech executives admitted that they didn’t let their kids use the products they had created.Amanda Ripley, WaPo
The basic problem is simple.
“Whoa, whoa!” you say. “News may be negative, but we need people to be informed!”
Sure, but it doesn’t have to be so negative. And viewers who dwell almost exclusively in the negative (Fox and MSNBC infotainment) are not well-informed. Satirists may do a better job of informing the public than journalists do, given the numbers from a 2007 study that showed viewers of The Daily Show were better informed than most.
Even if you’re smart enough to avoid watching the people whose job is to make you afraid to change the channel, your knowledge may skew toward the negative.
You probably know about monkeypox. Or new COVID subvariants. Or the Jan. 6 committee hearings.
Did you know 9 billion COVID vaccine doses were administered in 2021? How about the new Ebola vaccine? How about the disappearance of the Victoria flu virus that used to kill hundreds of thousands of people each year? Did you hear about Biden expanding protections for waterways and wetlands? Maybe the restoration of biodiversity in the Thames? Expanding abortion rights in Latin America? Support for same-sex marriage in the USA rising from 27% in 1996 to 70% today? The global decline in coal production? The tuna populations that have rebounded after years of overfishing?
You may also be taken in by sensationalism, even if you’d consider that story “positive.” How many times have we heard Trump is on the verge of being ruined or arrested? How many of the stories along those lines mention the fact that he continues to be relatively unscathed even after his fraud settlements, his sexual immorality, his use of the White House to enrich himself and his family, everything we already know about Jan. 6, etc., etc.? And we’re supposed to believe that he’s finally going to prison because he yelled at a Secret Service agent to take him to the Capitol?
Suppose we actually consumed news in a constructive way?
Back to Ripley’s WaPo piece: “There is a way to communicate news — including very bad news — that leaves us better off as a result. A way to spark anger and action. Empathy alongside dignity. Hope alongside fear. There is another way, and it doesn’t lead to bankruptcy or puffery. But right now, these examples I’ve listed remain far too rare.”
I don’t know how to reach low-information voters and explain the realities of climate change, COVID prevention or domestic terrorism. What I do know is that we’re not going to fix the problem with doomscrolling. It’s not a coincidence that the longest song on the new Metric album, maybe the longest they’ve ever done, is called Doomscroller.
I’m trying to find a way to find good stories while we have such a high signal-to-fear ratio. The battleground area for me is my Gmail, my subscriptions and my filters:
- Washington Post: I don’t get the full daily newsletters I used to get, but I’m sticking with Must Reads and the Post Most in the hopes of catching those stories that aren’t all doom and gloom.
- The Guardian: I’ve re-subscribed to the daily briefing because I need to know what ran in the sports section. They usually have some good reads in culture and other sections as well.
- The Atlantic: Their specialty newsletters such as Up for Debate, The Third Rail and Galaxy Brain are good for alternate viewpoints.
- USA TODAY: Their fact-check newsletter is good.
- Vox: Unsubscribed
- Mic: Unsubscribed. Sorry, Millennials.
- The Bulwark (conservative anti-Trump): I’m down to one of their many newsletters.
And I get a couple of roundups. Pocket has some good reads that its users save. Something called 1440 has a Daily Digest that quickly covers the top stories but has a bit of serendipity as well. On my phone, I can check my personalized Google News briefing and Apple News, which also lets me check out stories I spot from The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal and a lot of lifestyle, sports and music magazines.
It’s not perfect. I love having one Apple News subscription that covers a lot of magazines and daily news sources, but I don’t need yet another roundup of today’s doom.
Finding the healthy mix, though, is worthwhile. Mental health is a serious issue. Don’t sacrifice yours when there’s no need to do so.
2 thoughts on “Why bother with news?”
I related to that Post column, although I trimmed back my news consumption several years ago. One other thing that Post column talked about, and you touch on but don’t explore, is that even stories with legitimately bad news — well, most of them — can be framed in such a way as to avoid despair by including info on what action readers can take. As a whole, journalism does some of that, but not nearly enough.