Why Reading News is Bad for You

News is a tragic soap-opera that begs for our attention and exploits us emotionally under the pretext of keeping us informed.

I used to be an avid news reader until I got fed up with all the drama and paused for reflection. What follows is a list of reasons why news was bad for me, and is probably bad for you too.

News is negative.

Drama and tragedy sell, not happy thoughts. News paints an image of a world we don’t want to live in. Most headlines are tragic and accompanied by images that affect us emotionally. Without us realising the cumulative effect is increased anxiety, loss of faith in humanity and higher stress levels.

News exploits our emotions.

First we become highly affected emotionally and psychologically by [insert world drama 1], then our brain becomes saturated on the topic and we just scroll over to get to [insert world drama 2] and so on. Over time news have a twofold psychological effect on the avid consumers:

  • Sensitisation: we become highly sensitive to the tragic events and situations that we are being shown.
  • Desensitisation: we gradually get used to the drama by being constantly exposed to it.

Graphic images, ever growing body counts, rapes and murders, fuel our anxieties, depress us or even build-up our aggression, usually over events that are very far away from us. Under the apparent reason of caring for people far away from us we might become less likely to react and act upon violence in our proximity. Through desensitisation we gain a certain level of immunity to violence and bad behaviour and instead of being more alert we become numb to it. As we unknowingly get more passive our perception of the immediate reality gets distorted.

News informs but doesn't build knowledge.

The snippets of information that we consume through news are like McNuggets: easy to eat but really bad for our health. And just like McNuggets, more people should remove them from their diets. News presents an array of facts which we are expected to digest without much intellectual effort. News is about coverage, not depth. Sadly, this information is easy in, easier out. We’ll forget most of those facts before the day is over.

News is sensational, not necessarily true.

News is produced and edited for maximum emotional impact because that’s what’s going to keep people coming back. You know the old maxim “don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story”? News won’t outright lie, but will present information from an angle that triggers the desired effect in the consumer. Ratings first, everything else is collateral.

News is biased and partisan.

Most publications are politically inclined one way or the other, and often owned by bigger media trusts which have to protect their interest. It’s not news that news is manipulated. Consumers are constantly susceptible to political propaganda or corporate marketing, and most information is so filtered and mediated that we need 3–5 sources to get anywhere near the zip-code of the truth.

News endorses confirmation bias.

We tend to focus on facts that confirm our previously formed opinions and disregard the rest: these are arguments which support our views and these are arguments which contradict us. To various degrees of awareness we are prone to disregard facts which disprove our beliefs and focus on the info we agree with. However, if the situation is presented compellingly with a balanced approach then we are inclined to think critically, from multiple angles, before we pass our judgement. But that takes time, space and quality journalism that is willing to invest effort in their content, however, most news is short factual compilations of information without critical assessment.

News is addictive and pretty much the same.

It’s enticing to keep up with current affairs because it’s a great conversation starter and makes us look well versed in matters of global importance. But before we realise it, this could become a time consuming routine that does not really bring significant improvements in our lives. News is a tragic soap opera that we follow to get emotionally numbed and discouraged under the pretext of being informed. Or as French sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu put it:

News is a series of apparently absurd stories that all end up looking the same, endless parades of poverty-stricken countries, sequences of events that, having appeared with no explanation, will disappear with no solution — Zaire today, Bosnia yesterday, the Congo tomorrow.

News gives the illusion of caring.

By actively taking an interest in current affairs we feel like we care about people in other parts of the world. True as that may be, most times we have to remain passive because those events are way out of our circle of influence. The most active action we take is sharing that info with friends, and then is back to our daily business. However, psychologically it’s not so easy to disconnect from that info and it increases our feeling of helplessness, anxiety and stress.

Not All is Lost, Here’s What To Do

Read more local news, less global drama. It can be a huge asset and help you make a difference in your community by knowing what’s going in your town, district or neighbourhood. While other news will just give you the illusion of a competitive advantage, local updates might reveal real opportunities.

Limit time spent on news. Scrolling through headlines once a week is enough, trust me. The really important stuff will find you. It’s actually hard to avoid these days. Take Prince’s death for instance: everyone online and offline was talking about it: social media, news, TV, radio, screens on the tube, birds in the trees, this article. You literally cannot avoid it, so don’t worry.

Read long-form articles and books. Engage as often as you can with compelling articles that grab your attention for more than half of minute. Aim for depth not number of headlines. These articles will invite you to think critically, absorb knowledge not just information, and will probably tell a story not simply present facts.

Keep updated but in moderation. It’s cool to read the latest developments in science, technology, design or whatever you love, and nowadays you can filter your RSS to get mostly the relevant information. But beware that even news related to your profession or hobby can prove addictive and before you know it, you will mechanically record information over previously recorded information. We forget most of the information we don’t engage with and since today information is readily available be more picky about your attention. It’s limited, so invest it wisely.

For a more in-depth investigation on why news is bad for you, read Rolf Dobelli’s article http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-rolf-dobelli.

I gave up watching TV over 9 years ago and I don’t miss it one bit. I used to read a lot of news online, but since the beginning of 2016 I’ve been applying the advice above, and I saved a lot of time and emotions. Hope this inspires you too.

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