A few years ago, I started noticing that my normal news diet left me feeling depleted and depressed. I tried mixing up my news habits, like moving my morning reading routine to the afternoon, and giving up TV news entirely. Some days, I’d read a couple newsletters and not much else. It felt like a shameful secret. Shouldn’t journalists love consuming the news?
For a long time, I thought the problem was me. But eventually, journalist friends started confessing that they needed a break from the news, too. And I started to ask myself a bigger question: Was the problem the news itself? And how journalists typically identify, frame and deliver the news? And if so, was there a way to fix it?
On a two-part episode of How To!, we investigated that question with the help of some very smart people: Nicole Lewis, an editor at Slate (now with The Marshall Project), and David Bornstein, co-founder/CEO of the Solutions Journalism Network. Nicole and David are two people who are trying in different ways to redesign the news for human consumption. In these episodes, we talk about how journalists can regain the trust of their audience—and how news consumers can find stories that both inform and inspire. With help from our listeners, we try to get to the heart of how the news became so broken, and how we can put it back together again.
This collection of articles helped guide our discussion and give us hope. If you’re one of the 42% of Americans who sometimes or often avoids contact with the news, we get it! And we hope these resources will help you find more balance in all the chaos. -Amanda Ripley
Amanda Ripley: “When I wrote this full confession about my broken relationship with the news for The Washington Post, I knew I wasn’t alone. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the response I got. I heard from hundreds of current and former reporters, but also regular people all over the world. We all need to be aware of what’s happening. But staying on top of it all can leave us feeling paralyzed. How can we protect our sanity and still be reasonably up-to-date when it feels like there’s more news than ever? It’s a challenge so many of us are experiencing.”
AR: “Anyone trying to stay informed right now already knows what an arduous process it can be, but this survey and analysis from the Reuters Institute shows just how much people are feeling the fatigue of the news cycle. According to the data, 4 out of 10 Americans say they sometimes or often actively avoid the news. That’s a higher rate than 30 other countries, and it’s been going up and up—since before Trump and before the pandemic. It’s fascinating to see how these habits have changed over time and how they compare with other countries.”
AR: “‘Headline stress disorder’ is not an official diagnosis just yet, but it’s a very familiar malaise for many journalists and news consumers. Headlines are designed to provoke outrage and fear, but humans need a much wider range of experiences in order to thrive and fully engage with today’s world.”
AR: “This study, published way back in 2019 (if only they knew!), examines the ways media exposure and distress feed on each other. It's a vicious cycle, and the way the news is traditionally covered—with media outlets competing for eyeballs and attention—doesn’t help. This is a warning that everyone (especially parents) should pay attention to when deciding which news to consume–or avoid. ”
AR: “You might think that consuming the news makes you more informed. In fact, the opposite might be the case–especially when it comes to deeply polarized subjects. This fascinating study from More In Common found that the more news people consume, the more mistakes they make about their political opponents. ‘People who said they read the news most of the time were nearly three times more distorted in their perceptions than those who said they read the news only now and then,’ the study found. Wondering how accurate your own perceptions are? Take the quiz on the report homepage!”
AR: “This report tracks the depth and quality of climate coverage in the news media. In 2021, only a third of the climate coverage on broadcast TV news featured actual solutions to the crisis. But that was a significant improvement over past years, when the ratio was even lower.”
AR: “Here’s some truly good news, finally: David and his colleagues at the Solutions Journalism Network have now trained over 25,000 journalists worldwide to cover the news in ways that won’t make us sick. They report out serious stories about people trying to respond to problems–not just marinating in the problems. You can search any subject you are worried about in the Solutions Story Tracker. It’s a powerful way to get a fuller picture of the world. With the help of listeners, we also collected a short list of places that work to explain the world without deleting all the hope, agency and dignity from their stories. Many are local news outlets, but national news sources you might want to check out include The Christian Science Monitor, Reuters, and the BBC World Service for reporting that is less sensational and more worldly, The Marshall Project, Fixes by The New York Times, and Curious City by WBEZ.”
Amanda Ripley is host of the podcast How To! She is an investigative journalist and a New York Times bestselling author. Her latest book is High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out. Ripley’s previous books include The Unthinkable and The Smartest Kids in the World. She also writes for The Atlantic, Politico, The Washington Post, and other outlets. Ripley grew up in New Jersey and now lives in Washington, D.C.