Rubbernecking, gawking, eyeball, peer, rivet, glare, ogle.
These are synonyms for what the 24/7 news cycle wants out of you.
The antonym? There’s only one:
When the News is More than The News
About 18 months ago I had the epiphany. Huffington Post and CNN weren’t showing me news. They were showing me commentary about the news that was specifically designed to get me to react. I wrote about that in the post, Reaction Porn.
In some quite literal ways news organizations have used analytics and algorithms to shape content designed not to inform the public but with two specific goals:
- To keep you watching/reading.
- To garner a reaction. Specifically, share it on social media.
The “why” behind that is fairly simple. To keep the ad dollars flowing they need your eyeballs on the TV and they need the page views of getting your friends to click links so they can see ads, too.
It’s not evil. It’s not slanted. It’s not necessarily immoral. These are businesses, owned by some of the largest media empires on the planet, and they need their money.
But it is bad for you. It’s manipulative. For me, it literally seemed to control my blood pressure. And it wasn’t making me better informed: It was making me more angry.
Turning Off the News
So I quit the news cold turkey. Just flat out took it out of my loop.
No more CNN.com. No more HuffPo. Deprogrammed Fox ages ago. I don’t go to their websites. I don’t follow them on Facebook or Twitter. I rarely watch TV anyway… but I won’t go online to their feeds or click on links to some specific sites from Facebook. Below I’ll show you how I completely block myself from seeing links to specific outlets or people who post nonsense.
And you know what? I don’t miss it.
When “Breaking News” happens I’ll turn on CNN long enough to get caught up with what’s going on. But as soon as they switch to the three idiots on their panel to start debating “why” something happened or “what it means” I just turn it off. (Why do I do this? See #1 above.)
My Sources for News
It’s not that I completely tune out. Not at all. I’m just turning off the commentary.
Let me introduce you to the AP News mobile app. (Available for free on Android/iOS) I scroll through it once or twice a day, it’s not in my loop. Instead, I look through their generic feed quickly to read a couple top line news items. What I like about the AP app is that it’s the straight dope. Other agencies use AP as their source, they jump off of the basics from the AP to add commentary. But the AP app is just a boring feed with little, if any, editorializing.
Of course, I read local news. And to get a more global look at things I enjoy reading the BBC app.
But that’s it.
Tuning Out the Nonsense on Facebook
Like more than a billion other people on our planet, I really like Facebook. But I also understand that EVERYTHING I see on Facebook is filtered through Facebook’s algorithm which is designed for one thing and one thing only… getting me to spend more minutes on Facebook. Facebook isn’t a free service. It’s a company that turns your attention span into the product they sell their advertisers. (Full disclosure: I’m a Facebook shareholder)
I bring sanity back to my Facebook feed by using Facebook’s built-in features to eliminate biased nonsense.
First, I shamelessly unfollow people who post reaction porn. Best part? They’ll never know. You’re still “friends” you just no longer see their stuff.
Second, I block sites from my feed that are annoying…
Once you start paying attention to websites and links that tend to raise your blood pressure you can very easily eliminate them. (Note: I’ve done this so extensively that I’m using something as an example that I wouldn’t normally block.)
You could spend 20 minutes and eliminate 95% of the reaction porn from your Facebook feed altogether.
Engage Local Issues. Be Aware of National Ones.
Yes, there are big national things that we should be aware about. Yes, there are breaking news items that’ll stop me cold and bring me to watch. But we all need to understand that things we’re learning about national and international news items is one tiny– often times skewed— view of what’s really going on. Until you actually engage with a story with your own eyes and put your own feet into a situation, you only know part of the story. The fact of the matter is that it’s not your responsibly to form firmly held opinions or reactions to news items that aren’t local to you. You need to understand that the reaction your feeling was created by someone with their own agenda.
That’s not to say I don’t engage on national news items or political policies. I’m going to continue to talk about gun control, immigration reform, school reform… but the more I’ve tuned out of the daily grind of reaction porn… the better and more focused I’ve found myself on things I’m actually accountable for doing. (e.g. No one pays me for my opinion on the news item of the day.)
The 2-Week Challenge
Try turning off your favorite news feeds for a couple weeks and see if it helps you get a better perspective on things. Deal?