I have a confession to make: over the past few years, I have begun to sidestep reading the news.
This is not something about myself I would have expected. I value being aware of what’s happening in the world, and I value knowing the ways in which my opinions, decisions, and actions impact everyone around me. Moreover, I believe it to be my obligation as a citizen to vote, to hold my leaders accountable, and to advocate for reform. And that, of course, means being informed.
Nevertheless, (at times) I do avoid consuming the news. A few years ago, I understood this evasive behavior to somehow be an act of selflessness. During the height of the pandemic, my wife and I did not want television news stories affecting our children’s worldview. We kept the TV off, and I would instead read the news while I was at work, or at night after they went to bed.
There are still times, sometimes for whole days, when I cannot bring myself to imbibe the news or, worse, “doomscroll,” exploring the many ways in which our country, climate, and value systems are broken. And often, there appear to be too many challenges in the lives of the people I know and love to worry about challenges in other locations that I have little or no ability to influence.
Amanda Ripley, author of High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped—And How We Get Out, writes about the surprising news-avoidance rate in the U.S., one of the highest in the world. According to data from the Reuters Institute, nearly 4 out of 10 Americans avoid the news. The Reuters study points to news coverage in America being repetitive, dispiriting, and often of dubious credibility. More than that, the news rarely gives us a sense of agency to act on the problems of the world, much less offering hope that those problems may one day be solved.
We cannot expect any of the concerns in our country and world to go away if we, as citizens, do not understand them and study them. Yet most news is not presented analytically, despite the relatively recent phenomenon of the 24-hour news cycle. Krista Tippett, the journalist and host of the radio show and podcast “On Being,” understands news avoidance this way: “I don’t actually think we are equipped, physiologically or mentally, to be delivered catastrophic and confusing news and pictures, 24/7. We are analog creatures in a digital world.”
News information in America as it is too often presented lacks hope, nuance, or context. Perhaps it is time for all of us to take agency of our interior lives—the manner in which we are intentionally processing information we are receiving as well as the actual information as we watch or read or listen to the news.
Please do not stop consuming the news (I recognize the irony of writing this article to be printed in a newsletter), but perhaps you are like me and could use some balance in your life. What would it look like to step back from news sources that do not make you more whole?
What would it look like to spend more time outside than watching television news or reading the newspaper?