I’ve had a funny relationship with the news for a long time. I studied journalism at university where following the news was just something you had to do. I remember coming home drunk from a night out, landing in bed with a polystyrene box of chips and turning on the TV to watch the world fall into a global recession.
It’s been a long time since I’ve worked as a journalist, but the need to keep up with the news has always stuck with me. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that. It’s good to know what’s going on in the world. I’d even say that being informed is part of being a good citizen of the world.
The problem is that news media has evolved into something that’s sensational, divisive and anxiety inducing. 24-hour news channels repeat the same awful stuff over and over. Advertising models put pressure on editorial staff to highlight the most sensational, attention-grabbing stories (and they’re normally negative). If you try to keep up, you don’t feel good.
2020 really compounded this problem for me. I was refreshing bbc.co.uk/news and theguardian.com almost constantly. And while the state of the world in 2020 was objectively not great, this little pattern I’d got myself into made me feel worse and worse. My anxiety went through the roof.
This year, I’ve been making some changes and I think I’ve found a news media diet that strikes a balance between staying informed and staying calm:
Every morning I listen to the Global News Podcast from the BBC. It lasts for about 30 minutes, which fits in nicely with the time it takes for me to get ready and start my day. And because it’s produced by the BBC World Service, it has a nice, global spread of news stories. Most English-speaking news outlets bias towards a western-centric set of headlines. This reminds me me that the world is a big place, that there are people that don’t look, talk and think like me, and that the issues that bother me aren’t the only ones out there.
On Fridays, I get a copy of The Guardian Weekly in the post. I tend to read it on a Saturday. Like the Global News podcast it features a global spread of news stories that have happened over the last week. More importantly, because it’s “slow” news, the style of reporting is more thoughtful and considered, rather than immediate and reactive.
That’s pretty much it. I use Apple’s Screen Time to effectively block both the BBC and The Guardian’s websites on my devices (by setting a limit of one minute), and I try not to use Twitter as a news source. All of this combined has had a noticeable impact on how I feel. I’m less anxious, I feel like I have a greater sense of perspective and I’m still satisfied that I’m informed enough about what’s going on in the world.
My experiment hasn’t really ended. Occasionally I’ll introduce another source of news, like The Slow Newscast from Tortoise Media or More or Less from BBC Radio 4. I’m still seeing how they fit in to my routines and whether or not they have a positive effect on me. I’ll try and remember to update this post if any of these experiments stick.