Changing our media diet changes our perception of the world.
I also used to love the NYT, folded over on weekdays to articles I could read quickly to a large spread on Sunday mornings that lasted for hours, the adult equivalent of a cereal box I’d read and re-read... but not anymore; I cancelled my subscription well before the 2016 election and turned off the background news of CNBC and later MSNBC that ran on my TV. I no longer watch weekend shows that were hours long on meaningful topics that morphed into quick hit prime-time shows they vowed they would not become. These days, the TV is blank except for reruns at night. I’m not going to replace it when it finally fails.
Just as I was reading grafs on Pinker, a CNN notification popped up; Biden leads T in NH... but voters are dissatisfied with both .... yeah, it’s a formula... you’d think people would recognize it and shun it by now... it must baffle and surprise media execs that it still works, the simplicity of it all. No wonder journalists all think we’re rubes and suckers.
I worked at our local newspaper in Dayton before and during 9/11 and a few years after in NIE. Our larger mission was to make ... odd verb but I don’t have another ... kids lifelong newspaper readers. This was back before all this hyper fear and anger stuff ... it is possible to present news well and teach folks how to engage in their world in a healthy way.
I was in the newsroom all day 9/11 at the helm of their website... something happened right there, the day the formulas melded and became what we see today. It was weird watching it, like seeing 100 years of history all happening in a day...
I hope I didn’t addict any kids to a lifelong newspaper habit... I like to think the journalists I worked with didn’t pivot intentionally, but it’s hard to see they didn’t. Actually, the few I still keep in touch with left journalism shortly afterwards... I never really did ask why and we don’t talk about it, but 20 some years later, maybe we should...
This is such an amazing piece! Thank you for sharing your views on this. I can't agree enough, it's such an important aspect of society today that often gets overlooked. A lot of us can easily fall into the trap of mindless scrolling and click-bait news, that we forget how these algorithms, over time, are getting better and more sophisticated at reshaping our point of view by feeding us more of the same narratives we choose to spend time on. Inherently creating an increasingly hidden vortex of biases that we barely notice is happening.
And maybe perhaps the shift to more focused capitalistic incentives in traditional media, as a by product to the proliferation of independent Internet media has happened so gradually, that as a means of business survival that maybe even the journalists themselves are disillusioned and trapped into the cycle of writing stories that'll help the companies/brands they work for survive— and unfortunately the shock factor of negative news is what sells and what vitality thrives on. So, maybe some journalists, especially those working for traditional media, have even also fallen prey to the clicks and likes they're getting on a story.
Thank you for sharing this! I think everyone needs to read your article.
I totally agree with this! It’s so strange how you don’t notice how negative it can be and how much it can subconsciously weigh on you psyche until you stop consuming the news 24/7. I used to have such a finger on the pulse of news & disasters until I got really ill almost 3 years ago and my own personal life was such a disaster because I couldn’t leave the house & my entire life became swamped with hospitals, appointments, medication and so much stress and trauma. So I made a conscious decision to delete Twitter (where I got most of my political updates), all the news apps, and stop watching and reading the news! And it made me feel a lot better. And now I am slowly starting to recover from my chronic illness, I have not once wanted to put myself back in that constant noise.
I do think this is a much needed message. Too often, we focus on the negative and fully dismiss the positive. That being said, I think both are necessary to see the world clearly. It can feel just as lonely to be sad and surrounded by happy people as to feel happy and surrounded by sad people. We need to make space for the whole of human experience, including overwhelming hope and joy!
Thanks for the reading suggestions!
I needed those. :)
Misery sells but it also depends on whose sad stories the media is hawking. A little tremor in ‘our country’ will sell more than a horrifyingly destructive earthquake in some far-off place.
I read the news but I’ve figured out how to balance sorrow with staying healthy inside my head.
I just deleted all of the news site favorites from my browser. I already feel lighter.
This!!!! 100%!! I've long suspected that there is much more going right in the world than we ever hear about, because the news we do get is so distorted towards dis-integration and drama. I love the idea of "Delayed Gratification" - will definitely check that out. And "Future Crunch" reminds me of the Good News Network that I've long admired - https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/
I also subscribe to Grist, an online newsletter w/ good news about the climate crisis. Their offerings also include "Fix," their "solutions lab," which highlights climate storytelling and activists. https://grist.org/ and https://grist.org/fix/about/
Thank you for your quote ‘I don’t want to dwell in the darkness of the trees, I want to rise above it and see the forest’.
I like slow news. I like to read a weekly newspaper, when the news is slightly old but not past its sell by date. Three months is a little too long for me. As well as the facts, I like to read a bit of analysis, to get a feeling that people are thinking carefully of the consequences and impact on society. I also like the ritual of reading the paper at the weekend, with a cup of Assam tea.
Luckily, in the UK we are less exposed to Trump, but we do have our own political minefield. And endless celebrity non-news.
My feeling is that it's less to do with the tone and language of the news and more to do with the frequency. At least here in the UK, back in the 80s and 90s when there were only 4 channels on TV you only had maybe 2-3 points during the day when you'd be able to watch 'the news'. It was a collected, curated infodump, far less obsessed with being 'live'. You'd get a newspaper once a day, max, and maybe you'd only actually get the Saturday paper with its weekly summaries.
Fast forward to now and there are entire channels that ONLY do news, 24 hours a day. You can get up-to-the-minute news on newspaper websites. If you're still on a Twitter/X for some reason you can get up-to-the-second news.
I love the idea of Delayed Gratification because it has an old school approach to news: perhaps not in its actual content, but in its pace of delivery. Having more news all the time doesn't help us make better decisions or be more informed. It's the old less-is-more adage.
I don't think I agree that focusing so heavily on the positive is the answer, either - that's seems like a bit of a luxury to me. But slowing down and delaying news consumption, while remaining highly informed, seems like the way to go.
Love your approach to news! My longtime favorite newsletter is not about news at all, it's about the beauty of human life, nature & poetry, how humanity overcomes suffering & pain. It's the 1st paid newsletter I subscribed to, more than 10 years ago: The Marginalian (formerly Brain pickings) by Maria Popova.
In her words: " the week’s most mind-broadening and heart-lifting reflections spanning art, science, poetry, philosophy, and other tendrils of our search for truth, beauty, meaning, and creative vitality."
This really hit home for me in 2020 during the protests in Portland. No one outside the city really understood what was going on and there was so much spin.
I loved the point that the words we use create our reality, but our reality also creates the words we use.
In a big picture/long term sort of way, things like culture, geography, and climate affect the language itself. We still add new words to the dictionary every year. The evolution of language is directly tied to its environment. I say this without any actual knowledge in the field of linguistics. Anyway, I think there is an interesting feedback loop between the words and the reality.
Have you ever written about or considered the role of language in a utopia?
This is spot on Elle. We are ever-encouraged to “be informed” or “join the conversation” as if that would help improve things in the world, when really we’re just being asked to hand over our minds to manipulation in favor of a false crown of enlightenment from a small group of journalists who want us to feel and think the same way they do.
When I was in journalism school we were taught two maxims: If it bleeds, it leads, and Dog bites man is not news because it is a common occurrence. Man bites dog, on the other hand....
I left journalism (I was in news ratio in the 80s) because on a slow news day we listened to the police scanner in hopes of coming across a story. We cheered when we heard a call for the “jaws of life” to an accident scene. I did not want to spend my life cheering at the tragedies of other people.
I unsubscribed from the NY Times three years and stopped listening to NPR around the same time. Both things started making my day worse so I jettisoned them from my life. I just do the NY Times Crossword Puzzle now on an app and only occasionally see NPR news stories in print.
I also love future crunch, it’s such a nice contrast to mainstream media. I’ve mostly unplugged, but feel privileged to be able to do so. I hope that I’m keeping myself aware enough to make informed choices in service to the better world I dream is possible.