A Modest Cure For The Overload of What Looks Like Information

I have a confession to make. I have not watched television news for more than a year. Not the so-called cable news stations, not regular network programs (morning or night), and not the local broadcasts.

Not only do I feel better, I think I’m also better informed than the people who binge on that stuff. Certainly better than anyone who watches Fox “news”.

It started just before the 2016 election when I took off for a week in Cuba that just happened to include election day. After learning of the results (the family we were staying with was very sympathetic), I decided I needed a new media diet, one that actually contained useful information, instead of hour after hour of “analysts” with little information and grids full of screaming heads.

My information stream may not work for you but it might give you some ideas on how to craft your own break from TV.

I start with suggested content from a few curated sources. Curation is that thing editors of television news, newspapers, and magazines used to do when they had 24 hours or more to consider events and decide which ones were worth including in their limited space. They didn’t always get it right, but trying to find instant value as you watch the stream is even worse.

My current favorite curators include Next Draft (by one person Dave Pell) and Quartz’ Daily Brief. Every weekday, both deliver a short collection of links to the stories they consider most important, along with some interesting stuff of less import. Plus very brief and sometimes humorous commentary.

I also receive a few weekly collections. From writer and edtech critic Audrey Watters (for a jolt of reality and much to consider), writer and artist Austin Kleon (for some inspiration), and UK-based educator Doug Belshaw (for education-related ideas).

None of these sources takes long to scan through, and I certainly don’t read the stories at the end of every single link. Very often the commentary is enough to get a general idea, especially when it comes to political news.

The articles and posts I do want to read usually get sent to Instapaper, an incredible service that aggregates anything I send to it and then delivers the information in a simplified format (re: no ads!) on any device I happen to be holding when time allows for some reading. It also offers some good highlighting and note taking features for when I want to rant about something in this space.

So, there it is. My simple, curated flow that takes less time and delivers more information than whatever passes for news on television. Chances are, if there is something worth viewing, one of these sources will link to the video anyway.

And what, you say, about “breaking news”?

I maintain that there’s no such thing. Most of what is given that label by the news channels is not of immediate importance and they often have very incomplete (often incorrect) details on what happened anyway. They offer even less on why it’s important. Besides, my Twitter feed will tell me if something big has happened in the world, and I can then choose to follow one of the tweeted links. More curation.

Anyway, that’s my system of keeping up with the news. As I said, it may not work for you. However, I would argue that most people would be far better informed with a buffer of time and thought between the actual event and the report of it. And a few good curators.


The graphic is by Jessica Hagy who has been posting these wonderfully insightful charts every weekday morning at her site This is Indexed for more than decade.

Supply, Meet Demand

Something to think about as we stumble forward with the completely flawed process of electing a president (or pretty much any other office). Watch and read the content that passes for “news” with this in mind:

This part won’t come as a surprise. The media doesn’t cover the issues. They cover the game. Political races and sports are covered in the exact same way in America. You get predictions about what a competitor needs to do to win, a brief spurt of action, postgame analysis, and a bunch of repetitive talkshows during which former players provide often obvious insights – which consumers continue to rehash around the social media watercooler. Seriously, is Chris Matthews any different from any SportsCenter anchor? If anything, he’s more sports than they are. His show is called Hardball. Even the MLB Network’s shows aren’t called Hardball.

And it’s not just MSNBC, Fox, and the political blogs. It’s every major news source, from PBS’ Shields and Brooks to Charlie Rose’s roundtables to the opinion (and front) pages of the top newspapers.

If you’re thinking the news media is totally to blame for current situation, consider Dave’s premise that at least half the fault belongs to the audience (that’s you and me).

Whenever the media tries to cover the issues at stake in an election, you turn them off. When they cover the game, you leave them on. You watch their shows and read their columns. You tweet. You post. You talk about it at dinner parties. You can’t talk about the issues themselves in that setting because no one in America ever has dinner with someone who doesn’t agree with them on the issues. And how could that not get boring after a few minutes?

The ultimate example of give the audience what they want.

On a side note, if you want an excellent, brief curation of the best stories, delivered free of charge most weekdays to your email or iOS device, subscribe to Dave Pell’s NextDraft.

Urgent Doesn’t Mean Important

In a recent post on his daily blog, Seth Godin deconstructs urgent vs. important, and makes a great point about our current news media.

In fact, breaking news of any kind is rarely important.

Important means: long-term, foundational, coherent, in the interest of many, strategic, efficient, positive…

If you take care of important things, the urgent things don’t show up as often. The opposite is never true.

Let’s start with this: The purpose of CNN’s BREAKING NEWS posture (caps intentional) isn’t to create a better-informed citizenry. It’s to make money.

If understanding current events is important, skip the manufactured urgency of cable TV.

Dumb TV News (or is that the audience)

A recent piece in Rolling Stone makes some great points about how what passes for TV news these days is not serving it’s audience. The writer claims Americans are Too Dumb for TV News, and that is the fault of the news producers themselves.

We in the media have spent decades turning the news into a consumer business that’s basically indistinguishable from selling cheeseburgers or video games. You want bigger margins, you just cram the product full of more fat and sugar and violence and wait for your obese, over-stimulated customer to come waddling forth.

The old Edward R. Murrow, eat-your-broccoli version of the news was banished long ago. Once such whiny purists were driven from editorial posts and the ad people over the last four or five decades got invited in, things changed. Then it was nothing but murders, bombs, and panda births, delivered to thickening couch potatoes in ever briefer blasts of forty, thirty, twenty seconds.

When you make the news into this kind of consumer business, pretty soon audiences lose the ability to distinguish between what they think they’re doing, informing themselves, and what they’re actually doing, shopping.

The big problem is that TV “news” these days is just too easy, both to produce and consume. But actually staying informed in an age of a constant flood of data is not easy.

You need to seek out sources you can trust to tell the truth (even if it’s not always what you want to hear). Then take the time to regularly read/watch/listen to them. And then you need to continually question the information they provide. It’s hard work.

So, is the American TV news audience dumb? Or lazy?

Just asking.

Hey, Look at Us!

This morning, almost the entire front page of the Washington Post, including everything above the fold, was devoted to one story: the sale of the Washington Post. The kind of coverage usually reserved for wars and other cataclysmic events.

With the chaotic and dangerous situations in Egypt and Syria, a continuing anemic economic recovery that’s killing the American middle class, a herd of politicians whose behavior would shame most six year olds, the government working hard to scrape every bit of data possible on it’s citizens, and most of those citizens clueless about all of it, the Post’s editors decided this is THE one most important story their readers needed to pay attention to.

This is what passes for journalism in 2013.

post_front_page