How to break the negative news cycle?
When I was younger watching the news after dinner was a nightly ritual for my mum and I, perhaps partly influenced by the fact that there was a news segment right before the evening soaps. It was firstly a national news segment, with a brief comment on international news that would cover major political events, major disasters or important things that were related to the UK in some way. After this, a short local news segment would once again cover important news locally and then we’d get the oft-unreliable weather report. We didn’t read the newspapers in my family and of course, didn’t have the internet (yeah, I’m old).
To me, growing up, the news I watched with my mum felt like it was genuinely there to inform and educate. There wasn’t really any sensationalism or shock value that I can recall, and it was all approached in a very calm, rational and quite honestly rather impersonal manner.
The modern news cycle is very different. It’s incredibly negative, on every level.
Every morning I wake up and all my news apps are screaming negativity at me. And when I open them and read the interesting news stories, the recommendations that come after are often sensationalised and over dramatised. I’m definitely more sensitive to news stories around children now, but because my search history and browsing often contains parental things, I get a ton of news stories about kids.
Kids getting molested, raped, kidnapped, killed. Kids abused by their parents. Kids dying in house fires. Kids dying of rare diseases. Yesterday I had one that was about a 2 year old that was hit in the head by falling masonry, with an exclamation of the 1 in 8 billion chance of dying like that was and how the parents would never recover and I had to ask myself – why is this news to me? This absolutely sucks, and I am full of empathy for the people directly affected, but a child dying 8,000 miles away in a freak accident does not teach me anything. It does not inform me. It does not educate me. If I was local, then a memorial for friends and family would be suitable – but it’s not. There is no relevance on my life or my community, I can hardly avoid walking next to a building in case of a freak accident. And because we have a 24 hour news cycle, it’s never ending. It’s every time I open my phone, or sit at my PC, browse my apps, log on social media.
I’m a big reader, I enjoy reading, I enjoy feeling informed – and at first, I’d think that all this data that is constantly streaming in was good, keeping me in touch with the world. But there’s just too much. It’s impossible to filter it.
To me, news should be practical, helpful, informative. It should tell me something I need to know, or give me something useful to take away from the situation. I should come away feeling more knowledgeable. It should give me a better understanding of my country, and my country’s standing in the world, so that I can make better decisions on how to vote. It should give me points I can use to look up more information and to talk about over the dinner table. This is what I want from news.
But more and more often even websites and news outlets that I used to find very rational are coming up with click-bait or emotion-based news stories that try to grab you with shock value. Then there’s also the new epidemic of fake news, which is another issue all by itself. Who knows who you can trust these days.
All it does is make people fearful, angry and emotional. It enhances my feelings of anxiety and worry about the world, and it heightens my stress levels. Even though my rational and logical mind is telling me I cannot change the fact I walk past buildings, of course now I’ve read a story about a freak accident killing a toddler who walked next to a building, it’s there, in the back of my head, insidiously muttering “what if?”. I strongly believe that the current negative news cycle has contributed to my anxiety and stress levels over the last few years, so I’m cutting back.
I want to be informed, I want to feel like I understand what’s going on in the world – but not like this.
How I’m cutting back on the negative news cycle
I’m cutting back to a specific time slot for news.
For me, the best time to read news is first thing in the morning because this is the free time I have whilst drinking a cup of tea, especially since I usually get up earlier than my son, but the temptation to browse the news at other times has been high. You get five minutes here, five minutes there, you’re on your phone scrolling – I always thought that reading the news was a constructive way to spend time whilst commuting, waiting for something, in the bathroom, etc. but it’s really not good for me to constantly be flicking through news stories.
I’m cutting back my news browsing to 30 minutes in the morning, unless it’s some breaking news that’s directly relevant to me. Instead I’m focusing on reading more. I’ve downloaded about 10 new books for June and July, and I’m hoping that I can get in the habit of reading them if I want something to read. Some are short story compilations which might fit my habit better.
I’m seriously limiting my news sources
No more going to google news and Reddit and Facebook and just clicking on a link that has a catchy headline. No more clicking on clickbait sponsored “news” on Twitter. I’m going to be working hard to try to find news outlets that want to bring serious and relevant news – not catchy headlines, sensationalised stories or those playing up on the shock factor. I’m also going to be avoiding commentary and opinion unless it’s from someone I trust. Whilst I have always enjoyed chatting, debating and listening to others opinions, the negative commentary is really affecting me and makes things seem overwhelming. It might make my news consumption a little dry, but I think it’ll be more informative and less stressful if I choose my reading sources carefully.
I’m cutting down on social media usage and reddit.
If I honestly ask myself what positivity has come from browsing social media and Reddit over the last few years, I have to struggle to come up with anything. I don’t mean my personal friends (and blogging buddies!) – by all means I intend to keep in touch with friends, look at their lovely photos on Instagram and chat to them on Twitter. But there is a side to social media that is once again, sensationalist and over-dramatic, and a great deal of it is skewed to the negative, because that’s what generates outrage and discussion. And I’m tired of seeing it.
I’m going to seek out positive commentary, especially local news
I want to be part of the positive commentary in the world. I want to read it, and share it. I want to be part of the local community more and share things that are actually directly relevant to my family. I don’t want to hide from the truth; I don’t want to look at the world from behind rose-tinted glasses and pretend everything’s okay whilst it’s falling apart, but at the same time, there is a news cycle that affects me and things I can be involved in and that’s what I need to focus on more than the bad guys doing terrible things half way around the world. I want to feel like the news matters to me, and to be inspired to be involved in the things I hear about rather than just wanting to cry about one more horrible thing happening in the world.
Ultimately I’m always going to want to feel like I’m keeping up with what’s important, that I’m educated and informed, but there has to be a positive and constructive way of doing that and I hope that I can find it.