When we consider how to spend our time, how much time is it reasonable to allocate to keeping up with the news? C.G.P. Grey, one of the two people on the podcast Hello Internet, would argue for almost zero. As he has mentioned on the podcast, he basically ignores the news — he doesn’t watch it on TV, doesn’t read a newspaper, and doesn’t visit online news sites. Rolf Dobelli, writing in The Guardian, also makes a case for ignoring the news. Some of the reasons Grey and Dobelli put forward are:
- The news is (almost entirely) irrelevant to our lives.
- News reporting can be inaccurate, much more often than we may suspect. Follow the news on a topic you know well, and you’ll see the inaccuracies. Breaking news is especially prone to error.
- The news focuses on what will grab the reader or viewer, which is often the most sensationalistic stories. This can lead us to have a distorted picture of the world.
- The news often does a horrible job of explaining a subject with any complexity.
I tend to read a fair amount of news, and I recently started keeping track of the articles I read so I could see how I was spending my time. My reading tends to fall into the following categories, which I expect will resonate with many others who follow the news:
News that affects what I do, day to day
When the Golden Gate Bridge was closing for a weekend, it was important for me to know about the closure when planning my activities for that weekend. Traffic and weather reports would also fall into this category.
News that inspires action
Sometimes a news story may inspire me to write to my legislators. This means I need to delve into the subject matter in some depth, being sure to choose reliable sources, to ensure I understand the issues. That can be time-consuming, but sometimes it feels worth the investment. The news, pursued in some depth, can also inform how I vote and how I make my charitable donations. On a more trivial level, the news may get me to see a new movie or try out a new restaurant.
News that’s relevant to my work
As a professional organizer, it helps me to know about things such as the new products Ikea is rolling out. Being aware a new book about organizing that’s getting a lot of attention is useful, too.
News that’s relevant to people around me
I live in an area where many people work in technology, including some of my clients, friends, and family members. Therefore, it’s good for me to know about the latest industry news, at least at a high level. So I glance at the latest news about things such as Google Glass and 23andMe’s DNA analysis, to cite two recent examples.
Other subjects are important to me on a more personal level. For example, I know someone who has suffered with Lyme disease, so news about the treatment of Lyme catches my attention.
News that serves as entertainment
Sometimes I’ll read things just because they interest me. For example, I used to live in the Detroit area, and I still follow some of the news about what’s happening there.
And then there are articles by favorite writers — those who both write well and are reliable sources of information. For example, I enjoy the science articles by Ed Yong. (How could I resist Here’s Looking at You, Squid?) In these cases, reading the news serves the same purpose as watching a TV show or reading a novel.
News that everyone will be talking about
Sometimes I pay attention to these stories (often at a very high level) and sometimes I just decide it’s okay to not know what’s going on. For example, about all I knew about a recent championship football game was who won, that the winner came from behind, and that the game went into overtime. When it comes to breaking stories, I try to avoid wasting time on news reports that are purely speculation.
Conclusion: Looking at all this, I’m pretty satisfied with my news reading habits. Is following the news a waste of time? I don’t think so, as long as we make smart, conscious choices about what we read or watch (and the time we spend doing so). Would evaluating your news consumption be a valuable exercise?