Many people who regularly read or watch the news are aware of its harmful effects. They doubt its accuracy and suspect its bias. So why do we keep watching it?
We feel obliged to “be informed”.
We are taught that being informed is safer, shows a higher intellect and is even more moral than being ignorant.—Why I proudly don’t watch the news or read the papers (and you shouldn’t either)
We’re afraid of missing something.
I’m increasingly convinced that the real cause of headline anxiety isn’t learning about worrisome new developments. Rather, it’s not knowing which new developments will prove to have been worth worrying about.—Oliver Burkeman
Pew Research provides a few motivations for consuming news.
How people use the news and feel about the news
Here are yet more reasons why we watch the news or follow it online:
- We want to understand how the news may affect our personal lives.
- We want to appear “up to speed” to friends and colleagues when they discuss the latest story.
- We, at least some of us, feel anxious and hope watching the news may provide us some relief .
- We have difficulty handling uncertainty.
- We have a deeply ingrained habit of, and possibly an addiction to, consuming the news.
According to Statistics Canada, the number of people following the news has decreased sharply between 2003 and 2013, particularly among young people.
The proportion of Canadians who stated that they rarely or never followed news and current affairs doubled (7% in 2003, compared with 13% in 2013). … The proportion of young people aged 15 to 34, who stated that they rarely or never followed news and current affairs, almost doubled during the period, from 11% in 2003 to 21% in 2013.Statistics Canada Daily: The use of media to follow news and current affairs, 2003 to 2013
Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey – The use of media to follow news and current affairs
The most useful and least harmful way to stay informed is to get your news from newspapers and magazines containing editor-selected quality stories. Online news media companies make money by keeping you clicking through their site; they are more likely to provoke emotion than to provide balanced, accurate content.
By and large, media companies that deliver news online monetize attention through display advertising. They want to keep us clicking and scrolling as much as possible. If a story drives clicks, views, or reads, they have an incentive to publish it—sometimes to sensationalize it. Companies delivering news online have no incentive to encourage moderation of the time we spend on their sites.How to Stay Informed Without Losing Your Mind
How accurate is the news really? There’s the problem of bias, but the problem has deeper roots.
The news media and the government are entwined in a vicious circle of mutual manipulation, mythmaking, and self-interest. Journalists need crises to dramatize news, and government officials need to appear to be responding to crises.Why the News Is Not the Truth
News media is slanted toward negative, agitating content. Its aim is to keep you engaged, not to help you to be a useful, informed citizen.
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.Five things you notice when you quit the news
A cartoon on Twitter by David Sipress captures perfectly how people are recognizing the harmful effects of trying to keep up with the overwhelming amount of media. It shows a couple walking together, with the woman saying, “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.”
Here are some reported benefits from quitting news media and from reading quality detailed analytical articles instead:
- You feel less stressed.
- You realize that your awareness of events had no beneficial impact on you or the events.
- You have time to read books that will give much deeper and more accurate information than any newscast is capable of providing.
- You no longer deceive yourself that “caring” is as good as doing something about a problem.
Suggestions for consuming news:
- Limit what you expose yourself to on a daily basis.
- Avoid general news channels and focus on specialized niches that matter to you.
- Don’t start or end your day with the news.
- Stick to the news itself, and bypass reactions to it offered by commentators.
- Focus on the local news.
- Read an entire newspaper or magazine, rather than skimming the headlines on your mobile device.
- Use a news aggregator app like Flipboard.
My family and friends follow the news and share it with me. I overhear it in coffee-shop conversations. If I find anything particularly interesting, I’ll pursue it more deeply. I don’t miss anything I really need to know about. I have the mental and emotional energy to write, to be creative in other ways, and to do things that benefit others as well as myself.
I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. On the other hand, I know a whole bunch of viciously uncreative minds who consume news like drugs. If you want to come up with old solutions, read news. If you are looking for new solutions, don’t. —DobelliDobelli
What about you?
- Do you look down on people who don’t follow the news as much as you do?
- Are you at peace with your news consumption habits or do you feel pressure from others to follow it more closely?
- What do you believe you’re gaining by watching news or following it online?
- If you spend a lot of energy either following the news or thinking about it, would you consider cutting back, either by a little or a by a lot?