The internet has made news accessible on a scale that would have been unimaginable when I was a kid. However, the wealth of available news isn’t necessarily a good thing. With so many options, where do you get your news from?
My parents were keen TV news watchers, so I grew up being used to the presence of that at home. I continued watching the 6:00 local evening news for a lot of my adult life, and only stopped a few years ago when I discontinued my cable tv service.
Does anyone read actual paper newspapers anymore? In a way, it’s a shame that people (including myself) aren’t willing to pay for that kind of journalism anymore. It means that we’re going to newspapers’ websites expecting to get content for free, which can’t happen because journalists need to get paid, so there are ads galore (very few things online are ever actually free). I think all of the competition for viewers’ eyeballs tends to lead to more clickbait titles. After all, it’s hard to get noticed amidst the onslaught. However, I’m cheap, and I don’t want to have to pay for all of the news I consume. I make the choice not to pay, and ads are the cost of that.
For the last couple of years, my main source of info on current events has been the CBC News app. The CBC is Canada’s public broadcaster, and they don’t tend to be overly sensationalistic. The app gives a snapshot of what’s going on without bombarding me with a ton of information, and it doesn’t usually show me loads of stories about the same terrible issue going on in the world.
Online sites galore
If you have a special interest, someone’s probably writing about current events in that area. I think a risk that you run with getting a lot of news from niche sites is that it can create a skewed view of what’s happening in the world. Every platform has to pick and choose what they’re going to show you, but if you avidly follow something like the Human Rights Watch account on Twitter, you’re going to see a different view of the world than you would if you primarily consumed more general news sources.
One of the many things I dislike about Twitter is its attempts to shove news in your face. I think Facebook does this too, although I’m not on FB, so I don’t actually know that for sure. I feel very confident that social media platforms will never give a balanced offering. That’s not what they’re trying to do; they’re trying to lock in eyeballs for advertisers. On a side note, I think telling people what’s trending is bad for humanity.
Surveys conducted by Pew Research in 2021 found that 48% of Americans get news from social media sometimes or often, and 31% of Americans regularly get news from Facebook. Among Twitter users, 55% regularly get news from Twitter.
I heard recently from Paula and Melanie that Microsoft likes to shove news feeds in people’s faces. I’ve turned off news feeds everywhere I possibly can. I don’t want news getting shoved in my face, particularly a collection of clickbait-y headlines from a bunch of different sources. I don’t want it, and I don’t want products that try to force it on me. In general, I don’t like things to be pushed at me. I want to be the one in charge; if I want something, I’ll go look for it, thank you very much.
I’ve mostly been successful at keeping news feeds out of my life. Twitter is the place I find least controllable. I use Safari and Chrome as my browsers, and they’re not showing me anything like that. I’ve also set up my iPhone so it doesn’t show any kind of unwanted feed.
There are two late-night comedy shows I watch, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I stream them on tv network sites, usually the day after broadcast. They talk about current events, but it’s satirical, and they’re not making any attempt to be unbiased. There are lots of things I first hear about on those shows, but I don’t expect them to give me the full picture. If there’s an issue that interests me, I use what those shows have talked about as a starting point to go look for further information on actual news sites.
News vs. opinion/commentary
I may be wrong about this, but it seems like some people have a hard time distinguishing between reported stories and opinion/commentary columns or shows, especially when it comes to American cable networks. Someone like Tucker Carlson on Fox isn’t reporting the news; he’s a douchebag talking about his opinions (just like the douchebag part is my opinion, no matter how convinced I am that it’s a fact). In terms of competition for viewers’ eyeballs, sensationalistic opinions are probably going to get more attention, and thus bring in more ad review, than neutral, good old-fashioned reporting.
There’s nothing wrong with reading opinions and commentary, but I do think it’s a problem if people read/view it and interpret it as neutral reporting. There’s already a lot of perception that the media is biased, and if opinion is coming across as reporting, it’s likely to feed into that. I’m not sure if the issue is lack of clarity on the part of news sources or limited media literacy on the part of Joe Doofus; probably it’s some of both.
Managing news and sanity
It may be hard to tone down the amount of news we’re exposed to, but I do think it’s worth trying. There’s a lot of shitty stuff going on in the world, and the media is a lot more likely to tell you about the shitty stuff than the good stuff. Life can be stressful enough without the news, plus all the shouting about it on social media, getting in your face. Mental health should be a higher priority than being on top of the latest goings-on.
It’s easy to get lulled into a sense that it’s just too in-your-face for it to be possible to disconnect, but I think there are options; it just takes a bit of effort to figure out what they are. That might mean getting a browser that doesn’t force a news feed in your face, or perhaps cutting down on social media use or accounts that you follow.
While it would be nice if all of the assorted companies stopped trying to shove news in our faces, realistically, I think that’s highly unlikely. That leaves it up to us to figure out our own ways to manage our exposure, and make choices about whether to passively put up with it or try to be proactive and do something about it.
Where do you get your news from, and what strategies do you use to manage the onslaught and maintain sanity?