Get Unstuck From the News

Adjusting your default state


Mar 22, 2022

2 min read

I have struggled with a severe news-reading addiction over the last several years. Usually, a big current event (a war, an election, etc) will pull me into a cycle of endlessly refreshing various newsfeeds to catch the latest updates. In his newsletter, The Imperfectionist, Oliver Burkeman discusses how to become "news-resilient". I think his approach is a healthy and realistic way forward out of the news vortex.

War on the News

First of all, the most important thing to know and understand about news publications is that in order to survive, they need money. The most common way for news publications to get money is to sell advertising space in their publications. If these news organizations want to increase their advertising revenue, they need eyeballs on those ads nestled in between their news articles. I know you're probably thinking, well duh Ross! I had to spend some time and let that realization really sink in before I fully understood what that meant for the actual news I was reading. The bottom line is that the news is engineered to steal our attention and keep us drip-fed.

Burkeman discusses several of the unhelpful approaches to "quitting the news". The first is the suggestion that it's even possible or realistic to "quit the news". It's not, because inevitably your coworkers will leak the info to you in the break room and then you'll just feel dumb. Another unhelpful approach is the "self-care" suggestions.

Ultimately Burkeman recommends a more realistic and helpful approach he calls "adjusting your default state". You could think of this as designing your environment for success. The idea is that you make a few simple changes to your routine and habits to counteract the inclination for mindless scrolling. Maybe you schedule a specific time to check the news each day. You can also leave your phone/laptop plugged in on your desk away from you for certain periods. I've also gone on a quest to find news sources that are aware of the inherent drip-feed/revenue effect. One news source I found is called Ground. They have built a "bias rating system" that provides multiple articles on a single topic from different news sources across the political spectrum. I also subscribed to The Economist for their "The world in brief" feature. The subscription is definitely pricey, but that leads me to believe that the news itself will be less reliant on ads as a revenue source.

This may come as a surprise, or you may be acutely aware, that there is a battle for your attention. It's being waged by the news publications, the streaming providers, the media companies, and social media. Knowing this is half the battle and the other half is making a few simple changes to the way you consume information so that you don't just fall into the traps.

© 2024 Ross Gebhart