Following news 24x7 considered harmful

Apr 13, 2020 #news #productivity

One of the most impactful changes I've made to my lifestyle is not following news 24x7, either from TV channels or aggregator sites. Instead, I read one or two credible and objective news outlets on the Internet once (or maximum twice) a day to keep myself updated. But that's about it.

This one practice has had a significantly positive impact on my mental well-being, and I recommend everyone to try it out, unless your job depends directly on consuming / generating news.

Quest for Content

One of my biggest issues with "always on" news is the quest for content. If you're a content publisher on the Internet pushing content out on a regular to semi-regular basis, you probably know what I'm talking about. You have to generate new content all the time.

Unless content generation comes naturally to you, there's a significant effort that goes in towards generating high-quality content. Not putting in that effort leads to quality gradually declining. I've seen plenty of websites that started out extremely focused, publishing very high-quality stuff. Eventually though, they started running out of stories and started putting out irrelevant and low-quality content.

I feel that some version of that applies to a couple of news media outlets as well.

For instance, there are plenty of active news channels in India that started out on a good note back in the late 90s / early 2000s. But now in 2020 when I look at the kind of stuff that they're reporting, it's beyond disappointing. Not only are the stories irrelevant and sensationalist, most of them are extremely low quality. Check the #WhyIsIndianMediaStupid hashtag on Twitter for examples.

Apart from low quality content, the bigger problem I see is opinionated reporting. News, in the true sense of the word, is supposed to mean objective reporting of facts. Ideally it's supposed to be black and white. This does not seem to be the case anymore.

Now it's completely normal for anchors to deliver news along with their own opinions, that may potentially promote partisanship. Plus there are enough outlets reporting non-factual stories ("alternative facts", if you will). Not only do I feel that this "news -> opinion" transition is a recipe for disaster, it could also be threatening the very concept of democracy as we know it.

Breaking News

Most news outlets these days report stories as soon as they come in. A deeper analysis of why this has become such a huge trend is beyond my understanding. I do believe that there's some amount of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) capitalization in there.

In any case, what I've noticed is that for someone like me, whose job does not directly depend on news, the majority of those stories can wait. For me, it doesn't make a huge difference if I consume those stories right away, or postpone reading them to the next day or day after.

Attaching the word "breaking" to a given piece of news creates a sense of urgency in my mind. Whether the urgency is positive or negative depends on the story. But as of April 2020 it's difficult to find positive news stories, so most of the times the urgency tends to be negative. This activates all the anxiety muscles in my body (and I'm pretty sure they're a thing), making me feel restless, anxious, and completely distracted from what I was doing earlier.

On the other hand, if I don't consume those stories immediately and schedule reading them to a fixed part of the day instead, this helps at least with the distraction. I'm probably still going to feel restless and anxious if the story is negative. But if I restrict myself to reading the news in a given time slot during the day, at least there wouldn't be any productivity impact during the rest of the day.

Anxiety

Like I mentioned earlier, unfortunately most of the news as of April 2020 is negative. That's just how the world seems to be running its course right now.

And as tiny cogs in this machine, there's not much we can do in the short term to turn the tide. There are definitely small steps that individuals can take right now for change to become visible a few years down the line. But right now, for example, apart from washing my hands and keeping distance from people I don't know, there's not much else in my capacity to be able to change the COVID-19 situation across the planet.

So it's more or less a given that when you choose to follow negative news 24x7, you're essentially choosing to expose your mind to negative news constantly, all day long. No wonder it's going to push the anxiety levels high.

A core principle of Stoicism is to not worry about what you can't change. This is much easier said than done, but it's definitely not impossible. But while you can attempt to train your mind along this line, why not instead solve the problem at its core and reduce your constant exposure to 24x7 news altogether?


I guess one of the things it boils down to is consuming content on your own schedule rather than on someone else's. The news outlets you're following, excepting a few, are most likely driven by an advertising based business model, which means they want to have as much of your attention as possible. While that makes them money, it impacts your health.

Besides, extremely important news stories (one example would be official statements from the local / national governments) have a way of somehow reaching you wherever you are. So reducing your news consumption frequency is most likely not going to affect your daily life too much.

I would highly recommend trying this out. So far I've noticed only positive effects, without impacting my general awareness of what's going on around me.