Improving our relationship to news


Hi! Let’s talk about media consumption, as part of Pablo’s issue of the Indieweb Carnival for October 2023 focusing on self-care and routine.

This month has been exhausting physically, intellectually and emotionally, so let it be known that writing this blog post was decidedly not self-care. But I hope that the work I’m doing right now, putting words on what I’m feeling, will help me on a larger scale. Let’s say it counts as a self-care post, then!

(You can read this article in French here.)

News consumption is important, but also terrible

I spend too much time on the Internet, to the point that my habit tracker has one daily item that’s just « Spend an hour not watching a screen » (which is, in big part, why I read so much).

Not only do I spend too much time on the Internet – I spend way too much time consuming content and news.

Worse even, I sometimes doom scroll, as most of us Internet users do. For those who don’t know what doom scrolling is, Merriam-Webster did a nice overview before adding it to the dictionary in September 2023. In short, it’s the usually accidental practice of spending a long time on your connected device and constantly ingesting bad news and sad posts.

Social media is a main culprit of this: it has been shown, many times over, that big social media companies’ algorithm tend to favor controversial or negative posts because they bring more engagement. And I have a personal opinion that we’ve brought this outrage culture over to social media like Mastodon, where we’re not even rewarded for being angry all the time – it’s just part of our culture by now, I guess. We can reform social media, but this is a post about self-care, not about fixing the entire world.

News are no better than this. They’re maybe even worse, considering that we might trust them more than some random hater on some flailing microblogging site. But there is a strong negativity bias in news reporting, especially because no news means good news and also because news outlets need viewers, so they go for what activates our brain: threat.
We can reform news, but again: this is a post about self-care, not about fixing the entire world.

Alright, everything sucks. So what are we to do?

My far from perfect answer is: reduce our news intake always, build a better ecosystem when we have the resources to do so.

Curating a me-friendly news experience

Katelyn Burns, who I immensely admire and appreciate, wrote a recent essay on trans burnout called « It’s okay to take a break from the anti-trans news cycle ». In it, she mostly talks from a journalist’s perspective, especially her as a journalist focusing on topics like trans issues, abortion and, uh, sports. She concludes:

It’s not healthy to follow every little hateful detail, either as a reader or as the journalist responsible for shining a light on it all. Please take my story as a cautionary tale, find the things that bring you joy and give your brain a break from the hate.

Told ya – she’s amazing.

Let’s break this down into 3 steps: choosing the right news sources, reducing the amount of information we’re exposed to, and being very intentional about what we actually read by adding friction.

Choosing the right news sources

I’ve done some work, although not nearly enough, on choosing the sources that I want to follow. Unfortunately, I happen to be trans and rather leftist, which means the mainstream news are not very kind to my opinions – maybe because most outlets are owned by conservative christian billionaires who actively push propaganda. Who knows.

First, a disclaimer: this blog post is in English, but I try to avoid English-language news sources, as of October 2023. My social media intake is relatively US-centric in spite of all my efforts, so my media outlet intake I try to keep French and as local as possible, even though I have some favourites like Autostraddle that I simply don’t think I can replace with something local.

With that in mind, my best friend in terms of media outlets has been the Portail des médias indépendants by Basta. They include all French centrist and leftist independent news outlets they can find, and add their own curation layer on top of it. They have a weekly newsletter, but currently I prefer to follow their more active, more constant RSS feed of recommended posts. They’re amazing!

Reducing the sheer amount of news to process

I’ve decided to focus on the quality of my sources, and reducing the quantity was not so much of an issue at the beginning. But when I centralized my video subscriptions, favourite social media accounts and followed news outlets in my RSS feed reader, I realized I’d have to work on that.

I open my RSS feed reader several times a day, and if I don’t open it at all for a full days I’ll get a couple hundred news items to catch up on, a number I’d really like to reduce because my brain is incapable of leaving something unread. (On the other hand, my brain is also addicted to the dopamine of receiving unread notifications to take care of, so maybe a whole lot of therapy should go with that.)

Anyway: I’m Bad at this. This is the step I’ve least worked on and any advice would be appreciated because I have none to give.

I’m really impressed with Elizabeth Tai’s great autumn news intake cleanup and might do this someday.

I do want to say one thing: when important, actually important stuff happens? You’ll know. Even if you’re not using the Internet at all. I found out more than once about major news from an IRL conversation with friends, or a meme chat, or the newspaper kiosk next to my local bakery.

Ruthless selection of news to actually read

I did something at the processing level, rather than the source level.

I made the choice of never actually reading news (or watching videos), but actually going through my RSS feed and « starring » everything that stands out to me based on the title and first 2-3 lines of text.

Every 3 or 4 days, I go into my starred items and unstar everything that just doesn’t interest me as much as I thought it would 3 days ago.

I then take the still-starred items and send them towards my « to watch » playlist or my e-reader (via the Push to Kindle Firefox extension / Android app). I’ll get to them when I have time – I don’t read immediately.

Usually, this means I’ll watch videos during lunch break or in the evenings, and read articles before bed or just after waking up. It doesn’t distract me during the day, and I’m really happy with this process.

Changing news at a bigger scale

I believe in the importance of building a better world, when one has the time, energy and potential for it. So I’ll throw in a few ideas before closing this blog post.

One thing I want to see more of is local news. I’m actually going to commit to translating this blog post to French (…someday) because I’m so tired of all the cool stuff and resources being US-centric and in English. The best news I get right now is my city’s weekly newsletter – I actually want to know about everything that’s in it! It’s amazing!

I also believe in building an ecosystem of high quality news. I’m extremely thankful to the Portail des médias indépendants and try to donate to all the outlets whose work I appreciate, when I can.

Refusing to share negativity is essential. Content Warnings on Mastodon are a good way to at least add some friction to the exposure to bad news. I have a rule of not sharing negative content that doesn’t directly affect me, and I also believe in « oppose and propose », a system where denouncing something as bad always comes with a proposal for something better.

This is, actually, why I built Un genre à soi, a blog in French for positive transgender news. I’m trying to do more than just say « trans doom and gloom is dangerous » or « ugh, everything about transidentity is in English », and build the news outlet I wish I could follow. (If you’re French-speaking and trans, you can write for it.) I also license the blog under CC-BY, which means that any other outlet can republish our posts and just link back to the original: free positive content for everyone! Please use it, bigger queer news outlets who make me want to cry every time I visit them!

Can we please not do this alone?

One section from Katelyn Burn’s essay on trans journalist burnout really stood out to me, because I’ve felt the same countless times before:

I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly when the guilt started to set in over my withdrawal from covering the day-to-day trans news. The lockdown era still feels like it was a nightmare, and suddenly I woke up and realized I hated writing about anything trans-related. It felt like a chore. But taking a break from the beat also felt fraught: how could I let my people down like that?

Which, really, brings us back to my previous point of never relying on a single person to do all the work.

Hope is a radical fighting strategy for the future. If we all build better news sources, that are more focused, if we make them work together, if we fight for more positive content, maybe eventually things will get better.

Maybe eventually we won’t need to actively build self-care strategies into what should just be web browsing and information.

Further reading

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13 Commentaires

  1. Bonjour ! J’aimerais vous parler aujourd’hui de notre consommation de nouvelles. C’est ma participation à l’Indieweb Carnival d’octobre 2023, organisé par Pablo, sur le sujet…