Why You Should Stop Reading the News
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Stop reading the news.
I stopped consuming news 4 years ago. The news detracted from my life. Most of what I heard and read was fear-driven, myopic, and outside of my control.
As an experiment, I decided to unplug from all sources of news. I unsubscribed from all news-related emails and stopped reading the New York Times and watching news online.
Instead of consuming news, I shifted my time and energy to time-tested books, blogs, and podcasts. Quickly, I saw my personal growth and joy accelerate while my anxiety about the world began to disappear.
Overall, I felt happier and more fulfilled. Instead of being bummed out about the declining state of the world, I was excited to talk about new ideas and projects that brought me joy.
To my surprise, when I told people that I no longer consumed news and felt a lot better, I often received looks and words of disapproval. Over and over, I’d hear something like the following:
“Calvin, you need to read the news to be informed. Otherwise, how can you operate in this world? The news helps me understand what’s going on and gives me things to talk about.”
Fair enough, but frankly, I still felt that the news was not for me. So I set out to explore the various aspects of this topic to make sure I was making the right decision. Below, you’ll find the results of that exploration.
I examine why we consume news, problems with news in the digital era, and how we can move forward as conscious consumers.
Why do we read news?
After speaking with dozens of individuals about why they consume news and analyzing research on modern news attitudes and practices, two realities emerged.
“News” means something different to everyone.
Depending on who you ask, the news may be daily reporting on temporary events in the world, industry- and interest-specific updates, or longer-term analyses and op-eds. While we all define news differently, it is typically a mix of daily events, entertainment, and practical information.
Most of us consume news because “it’s important to be well-informed.”
Basically, we want to know and understand what’s going on in the world and be able to intelligently discuss our knowledge with coworkers, loved ones, and friends. This belief in the importance of being well-informed is a deeply entrenched, but rarely questioned part of Western culture. It is rooted in our desire to be good citizens that contribute to society.
But even if we accept this belief that being well-informed is an ideal we should pursue, is the news the best pathway to achieve our mission?
Problems with news in the digital era
If our objective is to be well-informed, today’s news presents numerous challenges.
Quality suffers in an on-demand news world.
News is being delivered faster than ever. If a volcano erupts in Bali, we know about it in minutes. If social protests break out in Brazil, we can watch them live.
In this on-demand environment, more news has to be produced in less time. But quality and thoughtful work take time. If reporters only have 15 minutes to write a story, how insightful and well-informed can it be?
Polarization thrives and credibility wanes in a crowded marketplace.
As a result of the internet, mobile phones, and decreasing costs, the number of news sources and distribution channels have multiplied. We now have television, online news providers, blogs, niche sites, social media, radio, print newspapers, and more.
To stand out in a crowded marketplace, news sources have turned to fear-driven content and polarizing positions. And as the volume of sources and channels has increased, it’s become more challenging to assess the credibility of the writers and sources.
Fear- and outrage-driven clicks pay the bills.
With lower costs, more distribution channels, and faster delivery, news competition has skyrocketed. To compete, news sources have shifted their business models and started offering news for free. But they still need to pay for staff salaries and overhead. And they do so through advertisers who pay for clicks and pageviews, not quality and credible content.
In an effort to get more pageviews and clicks, news sources have turned to increasingly alarmist headlines and negative stories to capture and sell 15 seconds of our attention. So now we live in a world of “bomb cyclones” instead of “winter storms.”
News is now coming at us from all directions. With competition booming and advertisers paying the bills, quality has become a scarce commodity and fear-driven content has proliferated. It’s harder than ever to separate the signal from the noise. So how do we move forward?
A call for a new era of conscious consumers
Coronavirus recently threw a big wrinkle in the world, but it doesn’t erase the many positive developments of the last few centuries.
Did you know that we live in the most peaceful time in history?
If you consume a lot of news, you might be surprised to know that war deaths are lower than ever, poverty is decreasing, people are working less, and homicide rates are declining. Check the data.
But positive headlines have been sent to the front lines in the war for our attention. To compete and survive, news providers have turned to fear and outrage. Fear and outrage sell.
So instead of hearing about the progress towards reductions in poverty, we hear about “murderous mothers,” “deadly storms,” and “derailed killer trains.” In this environment, we begin to believe the world is a much scarier, dangerous, and problem-filled place than it used to be.
These negative feelings then flow into our daily conversations and social interactions. And many of us end up unconsciously living as prisoners in an echo chamber of outrage and discontent.
There are still many serious problems in the world, but how many of us are actually solving these challenges instead of feeling anxious, outraged, and liking a social media post about them? Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way.
We can fight back and win the war by becoming more conscious consumers.
As a conscious consumer, you:
- Understand the problems with news in the digital era
- Question the intention, credibility, and quality of all of the information you digest
- Stop cluttering your minds with information that won’t be relevant two weeks from now
- Move past surface level and uninformed views and dive deeper into the events and topics you care most about
- Channel your knowledge and energy to start solving real problems, instead of simply talking about and being upset by problems outside of your control
Even if you read and watch the news regularly, you can choose to be a conscious consumer. What you see and read is often not how things are. Have the courage to challenge and think deeply about the information you consume.
It’s easy to be outraged or scared about the problems in the world. It’s noble to stop complaining, educate yourself, and begin solving the problems you care about.
We can still win the war. Consume consciously.