Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Quitting the News

Jason Kottke today shared a quote from a guy who stopped following "the news" years ago:

A common symptom of quitting the news is an improvement in mood. News junkies will say it’s because you’ve stuck your head in the sand.

But that assumes the news is the equivalent of having your head out in the fresh, clear air. They don’t realize that what you can glean about the world from the news isn’t even close to a representative sample of what is happening in the world.

The news isn’t interested in creating an accurate sample. They select for what’s 1) unusual, 2) awful, and 3) probably going to be popular. So the idea that you can get a meaningful sense of the “state of the world” by watching the news is absurd.

Their selections exploit our negativity bias. We’ve evolved to pay more attention to what’s scary and infuriating, but that doesn’t mean every instance of fear or anger is useful. Once you’ve quit watching, it becomes obvious that it is a primary aim of news reports—not an incidental side-effect—to agitate and dismay the viewer.

What appears on the news is not “The conscientious person’s portfolio of concerns.” What appears is whatever sells, and what sells is fear, and contempt for other groups of people.

Curate your own portfolio. You can get better information about the world from deeper sources, who took more than a half-day to put it together.
I don't know whether I count as following "the news" the way it's usually meant. I don't watch network news or CNN. I watch All In With Chris Hayes most weeknights, and occasionally follow that with the Rachel Maddow Show and less often Lawrence O'Donnell. I read a daily (local) newspaper. And I am relentlessly attached to the Twitter fire hose, which leads everywehre.

I've been thinking about how healthful these habits are for me. I don't want to stick my head in the sand, as it were, but I know the state of the world I get from my media use is limited but also overwhelming.

Maybe if Clinton had won the election I could have eased off of these inputs. But now? It seems irresponsible, impossible.

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

Zounds, does this post resonate with me. I haven’t watched a minute of television news since the night of November 8. I watched one episode of the PBS NewsHour when Gwen Ifill died. I’m getting my fair share of news from the Times and other sources. But I’m better off without the constant stress-making atmosphere of cable news: that ridiculous announcement ”Breaking news!” — usually followed by the same story they reported half an hour ago.