One of the things we try to impress upon the youngsters who join Marcellus is to spend as little as possible in the morning reading the newspapers. We thought that this problem was specific to India where the failing business model of newspapers has made them a shadow of their former selves. However, this piece in the Washington Post suggests that the malaise is global. Amanda Ripley writes “…half a dozen years ago, something changed. The news started to get under my skin. After my morning reading, I felt so drained that I couldn’t write — or do anything creative. I’d listen to “Morning Edition” and feel lethargic, unmotivated, and the day had barely begun.
What was my problem? I used to cover terrorist attacks, hurricanes, plane crashes, all manner of human suffering. But now? I was too permeable. It was like I’d developed a gluten allergy. And here I was — a wheat farmer!
So, like a lot of people, I started to dose the news. I cut out TV news altogether, because that’s just common sense, and I waited until late afternoon to read other news. By then, I figured, I could gut it out until dinner…”
Ripley says that she soon found that many of her other friends had also been avoiding all exposure to news, most of which was too depressing for human consumption eg. racism, shootings, climate change, war, corruption, etc. And this is where the piece gets really interesting:
“…And that gets to the heart of the problem here: If so many of us feel poisoned by our products, might there be something wrong with them?
Last month, new data from the Reuters Institute showed that the United States has one of the highest news-avoidance rates in the world. About 4 out of 10 Americans sometimes or often avoid contact with the news — a higher rate than at least 30 other countries….
Why are people avoiding the news? It’s repetitive and dispiriting, often of dubious credibility, and it leaves people feeling powerless, according to the survey. The evidence supports their decision to pull back. It turns out that the more news we consume about mass-casualty events, such as shootings, the more we suffer. The more political news we ingest, the more mistakes we make about who we are. If the goal of journalism is to inform people, where is the evidence it is working?”
So why does news in all its formats now suck so consistently? Is it because journalists feel that they have write negative stuff to grab eyeballs? Amanda Ripley has an original point-of-view on this: “A lot of people say the problem is bias. Journalists say the problem is the business model: Negativity is clicky. But I’ve started to think that both theories are missing the most important piece of the puzzle: the human factor.
Today’s news, even high-quality print news, is not designed for humans. As Krista Tippett, the journalist and host of the radio show and podcast “On Being,” puts it, “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.”
I’ve spent the past year trying to figure out what news designed for 21st-century humans might look like — interviewing physicians who specialize in communicating bad news to patients, behavioral scientists who understand what humans need to live full, informed lives and psychologists who have been treating patients for “headline stress disorder.””
So how can we fix things? Here is Ms Ripley’s HBR-style solution: “First, we need hope to get up in the morning. Researchers have found that hope is associated with lower levels of depression, chronic pain, sleeplessness and cancer, among many other things. Hopelessness, by contrast, is linked to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and … death.
“Hope is like water,” says David Bornstein, co-founder of the nonprofit Solutions Journalism Network. “You need to have something to believe in. If you’re in the restaurant business, you’re gonna give people water. Because you understand human biology. It’s weird that journalism has such a hard time understanding this. People need to have a sense of possibility.”…
Second, humans need a sense of agency. “Agency” is not something most reporters think about, probably because, in their jobs, they have it. But feeling like you and your fellow humans can do something — even something small — is how we convert anger into action, frustration into invention. That self-efficacy is essential to any functioning democracy.
Nowhere is the crying need for agency and hope more apparent than in climate coverage. Of all the climate stories aired on nightly news and Sunday morning shows in 2021, only a third discussed possible solutions, according to a study by Media Matters for America. What would agency look like? It might look like The Post’s April article detailing six ways to halt climate change. Or it might look like the viral videos on TikTok, where non-journalists such as @thegarbagequeen have started to fill the void, celebrating incremental environmental victories and debunking “climate doomers.”…
Finally, we need dignity. This is also not something most reporters think about, in my experience. Which is odd, because it is integral to understanding why people do what they do.
What does dignity look like? Shamil Idriss, the head of Search for Common Ground, which works to prevent violence in 31 countries, explains it simply: “To me, it’s the feeling I have that I matter, that my life has some worth.” In journalism, treating people like they matter means, most importantly, listening to them — maybe the way WBEZ’s “Curious City” listens to its audience to decide what to investigate, for example. It can mean inviting viewers to talk to each other, with civility, like Atlanta NBC station 11Alive did, enlisting local parents skeptical of critical race theory to interview school officials and historians on camera. And it means writing about people as more than the sum of their circumstances…”
Interestingly, barring the Indian Express, we don’t see any other English newspaper in India doing any of the above. And with regards to the news channels on Indian TV, the less said the better.
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