stop reading bad news

I’ve stopped reading the news – in particular, I’ve stopped reading bad news. Or, at least I’ve tried to; news, it turns out, is everywhere! I’ve replaced my car radio time with audio books, my lunchbreak reading with a few favourite blogs. We don’t watch TV or buy papers at home, and I’ve deleted the apps from my phone.
And yet… It’s like news is the sea and we’re all just fish swimming around, mostly not even knowing that we’re wet.

Despite actively avoiding news, this morning I have encountered it:

    As the radio started up when I turned my car on.
    On twitter posts.
    On Instagram posts.
    On the front pages at the newsagent when I bought a snack.
    Playing on the radio as I paid for my snack.
    On the homepage of my internet browser at work.

See what I mean? It’s only 10:30am!

It’s not all accidental, either. Last night when Orla’s persistent coughing and squirming woke me at 4am, I opened a news site on my phone. I knew it was breaking my promise to myself, I knew I was going to write this post today, but even so, I looked; I was tired and grumpy and I didn’t have the attention span for anything else. So I looked, and I saw photographs of men about to be beheaded, a fatal car accident, stupid comments by stupid, soulless people, and then I couldn’t sleep for entirely different reasons.

I’ve noticed this is a pattern; I’m more likely to reach for news when I am tired, stressed, hungry, anxious, upset. I think it’s mainly because of the format – short, punchy stories, lots of choice in one place – but the effect is that I most often read about bad things when I am already feeling bad.
All my other vices in moments of emotional difficulty – chocolate, wine, online Zara splurges – are all pleasurable diversions. Is it possible I find the safe emotional rollercoaster of the headlines somehow pleasurable too?

I’ve started to write this post a few times now and this is always the point where I falter; when it comes to sharing my reasons for this cutting out of news. I’m conscious of sounding like a crazy woman on the internet here, so I’ve decided not to say too much. I wont talk about how I think we are not built to repeatedly witness such violent imagery, and especially not from the comfort and security of our car or supermarket or bed. I wont explain why I worry that we wind up treating people’s life-altering tragedy like a soap opera, dipping in & out for a brief diversion from our boring, easy lives.
I will say, I no longer believe news deserves its moral highground and status of ‘socially significant’ in an age of clickbait and celebrity and online advertising. The wall-to-wall Charlie Hebdo coverage and simultaneous blanket silence around the concurrent massacre in Nigeria is the perfect example; the news agencies have their own agenda, and it has far more to do with entertaining than informing.

I climbed out of the news-ocean for a while, and then I fell back in. That water is wet, and it is cold and shocking and the currents push you in directions you never intended to go. I’m not a strong swimmer, so I’m going to try and stay on dry land from now on, and you’re welcome to join me.

ETA: Since posting this, there’s been some really insightful debate & discussion over on Lots of food for thought – worth a read, if this topic interests you!

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  • January 18, 2024

Really enjoyed this blog.Thanks Again. Much obliged.

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  • Jules

  • February 28, 2015

Love the debate you have going on here! As a former journo I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to detach myself completely – yet I find myself agreeing with what you say

  • Sara

  • February 23, 2015

Oh how I love your words here. So much daily joy and privilege missed because we always have our eyes on the bad things, and forget to be thankful for what we have! x

  • Sara

  • February 23, 2015

I think this is a wise stance, and hopefully the one I will end up taking. For now total abstinence feels necessary, if only to reset my shock-sensors and clear my eyes a little. Thanks for your thoughtful comment xx

  • Sara

  • February 23, 2015

Hi Amanda! Thanks for your comment. You phrase it perfectly – we think we can help, but in the end we mostly wind up feeling helpless.
I think yours is a good middle ground, and it’s the same stance my partner Rory has ended up taking. I feel the need for a stronger blackout for a while, because I sometimes can’t help but click those headlines once I’ve read them.
It’s so interesting to discover so many people coming to similar conclusions, independently from each other. I wonder if it’s a new phenomenon?
S x

  • Amanda Kenney

  • February 23, 2015

I was just talking about this. It’s hard, because you feel that it may be good to stay in touch and know how others suffer around the world… perhaps we can do something. Although, most of the time, we can’t do much and we are just burdened with hurt, sadness, even fear. It really breaks me and there are so many terrible things that happen daily. I have also decided to quit a bit. I still follow on Facebook and I will plan to read the titles (although, often more shocking), but not open the article. I’m meeting myself halfway. Ugh.

  • simon

  • February 23, 2015

dear sara,
first, many compliments on your mastery of the new digital world.
love your simple, unaffected photos and i spent my life in a similar field
simple is always best
next, yes the news machine is feeding the things that we don’t want,
continuing to promote horrible people doing horrible things
we need to examine our consciences to break away from these stories
that fascinate us.
it starts with posh spice and david, moves on to princess kate, kim kardashian
and then suddenly becomes much more dramatic gory realities where one easily
becomes disgusted with human kind.
we have the choice to disconnect, at the same time we can’t silence the media.
child abuse cannot be ignored and should be investigated to reveal the guilty.
Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
When I can’t sleep at night, there’s always Gardener’s Question time.
Very best wishes to you and Orla.

  • Sara

  • February 22, 2015

An AGA dress?! *runs to look*

  • Rebecca

  • February 21, 2015

Totally unrelated to the topic, but I saw this dress and thought of you.

  • Muddling Along

  • February 19, 2015

I’ve found that giving up the news completely doesn’t work but I do try and avoid it and to step away and to generally limit my exposure to it because I cannot cope with too much bad and nasty and mean in my life

And I think that dealing with news and its attendant horrors on my own terms does help me to at least minimise the negative impact it has on me

  • Vanessa

  • February 17, 2015

Oh I couldn’t agree more. I look around me and see my beautiful children, and could weep whenI listen or read the news. I decided to put a total ban on the news. The sky is blue, my home is full of love and laughter and the smell of freshly baked bread. I am loved by my close friends and family and I am happy in my work. The news is simply so vile that it crushed the air out of my lungs, so I too am banning the news.

  • Tiffany

  • February 13, 2015

My family never watched the news or anything like that when my brothers and me were growing up. I’ve always felt kinda guilty that I’m not more clued up – now I’m thinking maybe it’s a good thing!

  • Sheona

  • February 13, 2015

Gemma, just had to agree about the exposing children to the news! Like you I always used to feel superior to other children because I watched the news and could speak to adults about all sorts of – frankly horrific – news stories!

I turn off the radio and tv when the news comes on as my 6 year old is very sensitive to it all. He’s actually so sensitive that he can’t watch the weather after they once predicted a flood…Now he sees any rain clouds and with wide eyes exclaims: ‘there’s going to be a FLOOD!’ :/

  • Gemma

  • February 12, 2015

Hi Sara, well what a great post and what amazing comments, both here and all those on Instagram. Been dipping in and reading them all day. I only found your blog and Instagram account a few months ago (after Boden reposted one of your pics!). I’ve read back through your archive and so much of what you say resonates with me, seeing the world in pictures and particularly when you said that you looked through a window and saw a cosy scene with a girl helping her Mama bake and you wanted that so much it hurt, I’ve often used that exact phrase, to want the little idyll for my family that exists in my head so much it aches.

Anyway, I digress! Our little family has also been on a simplification journey for almost a year now, it’s slow progress, but I do find it so worthwhile and I feel we’re getting ever closer to reaching what we’re striving for. The issue of news is very pertinent to me, only last month my husband actually deleted the BBC News app off my iPhone as he was fed up with me reading something upsetting and dwelling on it. It’s definitely got worse since having my daughters (eldest is almost 4 and the youngest is 6 months), to the point where I found myself wondering if we’d been irresponsible to bring them into the world when it all seems so scary and depressing. That’s when I realised I needed to stop reading the news. (I stopped watching it years ago). Stories of violence against children are the worst for me, I would read a headline and feel compelled to click on it, almost to see just how awful it was, even though I knew it would haunt me for days afterwards. I don’t know why I feel the need to torture myself, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve wished I could ‘unread’ something. My paranoia about stranger danger has got ridiculous now, I guess the amount it gets reported makes it seem like every street must harbour one. I still find myself reading the Guardian online and first thing in the morning I go to the BBC news website to see the day’s front pages, but that often leads to me going off and reading the story, so I think it’s time I tried to stop that too. Honestly, it’s like I’m addicted to the news, I’d already deleted and reinstalled the BBC news app several times before my husband did it for me. I don’t want to be paranoid, I just want to enjoy being a Mummy and let my girls enjoy their childhoods.

One last point, I read some comments on Instagram about not wanting to expose children to the news. I couldn’t agree more. As a child we always ate together as a family around the table, but every night whilst we ate we would watch the six o’clock news, the local news and then the Channel 4 news at 7. At the time I thought it was a good thing and I guess I was a bit smug that I could converse with teachers and adults about current affairs, but looking back I think all that exposure to news has made me the worrier I am today. I wonder how I’ll approach the election without news, and there’s definitely a fear of appearing less intellectual if I’m not up to date with current affairs, but I just don’t think it’s good for me. I deleted my Twitter account over a year ago as I was wasting so much time and I was finding the content upsetting. Sometimes I feel the world is full of bad people, I’m so glad I found blogs and Instagram to restore my faith!

Argh sorry, this has turned into a ridiculously long comment! Whoops!
Anyway, thanks for starting a great debate and here’s to staying dry and cosy.

  • Alice

  • February 12, 2015

This is a really interesting read! 🙂 As a student of international politics, it is expected of us to watch the ten o’clock news and/or newsnight (not that I can stay awake for either!). But I agree with you on the soap opera aspect: usually this is from tabloids, and I try SO HARD to avoid such disgusting forms of journalism, but Facebook and other forms of social media have increased their readership – isn’t it so easy to click on one when a friend shares it – or this dreaded feature of Facebook that makes you view an article title simply because a Facebook friend liked the page? AND THEN, you read the comments, and you try so hard not to throttle someone who has commented the most straw man argument! Anyway, bravo you for avoiding it! But also, be careful not to miss the good news stories: such as one I watched today, about a US girl who does long distance running for her State despite having MS. 🙂

aliceandherloves x

  • Sara

  • February 12, 2015

Thats a great rule, and a good way to split up the newspapers. I feel like it is hard to know where to draw the line – as you say, they are making money off tragedy, and trying to entertain (in a broad sense) instead of inform. I’m on the hunt for another way to get a view of the world 🙂

  • Sara

  • February 12, 2015

but what DID happen to the pizza? I still say he ate it. And that is EXACTLY what I mean! xx

  • Sara

  • February 12, 2015

News analysts! This sounds exactly like what I need – I’ll be following your recommendations, literally 😀

  • Missy

  • February 12, 2015

We don’t have TV, and I don’t watch the news or really read it either. I like getting the local newspaper but it’s expensive so I don’t ever. I really don’t miss the news at all. Everything is sensationalized and conjectured on and instead of facts it’s a bunch of dramatics. I avoid it for the sake of my emotional state. I also believe that watching all that makes people much more paranoid than necessary. Plus I feel it’s desensitizing to horrible things happening. They keep showing more and more graphic things and I have no desire to have that in my brain space

  • Marianne

  • February 12, 2015

Luv this post!
I think it is important to be part of the world and take a interest in whats happening around. Yes it is disturbing- of course it is! Saying that, I think that some newspaper/TV are making a lot of money and attention on other peoples tragedy. I have in Norway cut out all newspaper that I know only purpose is to make me worry and to read about celebrities. It was difficult, and sometime I fall back. But that is ok too! My golden rule is to keep my mobil out of reach when I`m sleeping.

  • Sheona

  • February 12, 2015

I feel very jealous that you’ve managed to do this. I think, like you, I automatically – almost unconsciously – access news websites when I’m at my most vulnerable. Plus the unanswerable questions keep me awake, anxious and on edge. Like what happened to the pizza?

  • Jo

  • February 12, 2015

This is really interesting. I’ve just removed The Independent from my Facebook feed because it is ALL about the click bait. I thought they’d somehow be above this kind of behaviour.

I follow news ‘analysts’ on Twitter whose views exactly reflect my own (TeacherRoar, Analytical Armadillo) and I think that’s about as much as I want at the moment.

You’ve verbalised what I’ve been skirting around.

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