It’s fairly safe to say that at the moment, reading the news is a lot. I’m someone who likes to know what is going on at any time, all the time. You may call it being nosy, I just call it being well informed. But in recent weeks, I’ve found myself facing a looming sense of dread everytime I open a news site, scroll through my feed, hear the ping of an email newsletter or even just turn on the radio.
It’s a recipe you’re probably uncomfortably familiar with: Start with a crispy global pandemic base; Add in a cup of racially fueled violence and hate crime; a spoonful of devastating natural disaster and mix to combine with a significant amount of international political unrest. Serve with a dollop of systemic gender based discrimination and congratulations, you’ve found yourself in our current news cycle.
Looking straight past any mis-reporting and media sensationalising (for more on that though, go check out our blog last week), it’s enough to make even the most concerned among us start to feel numb. Psychologists call this crisis fatigue, but right now it just feels like our new normal.
Google ‘how to not get overwhelmed by the news’ and the suggestions are fairly straightforward: Read less news, limit yourself to a select few sources and for goodness sake, stay off social media. The words ‘digital detox’ were thrown in there too. This is great, and I’ve got no doubt it would be a wonderful starting point, but if you are like me and work in the communications industry then that is a lot easier said than done.
Part of my job is to know what's going on at any one time, have a somewhat educated opinion on it and then strategically devise a plan (at top speed) on how to hijack this news in a seemingly organic, yet equally powerful way that aligns to the client's voice as ‘part of the conversation’. Just reading that sentence is exhausting.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not being forced to have my fingers in multiple newsworthy pies, but it is definitely a helpful part of my job. It did get me thinking however, about whether our news cycle has always felt this doom-and-gloom? Data scientist Kalev Leetaru’s study on ‘sentiment mining’, reviewed the overall tone of the media between 1981 and 2010, considering articles from across the globe in print, broadcast and online news. Taking into account varying peaks and troughs (and no doubt the research on 2020 will show a big old trough), the findings show a significant and consistent increase in a negative tone of voice.
Interestingly, the rate in which the newscycle has shifted to move online shows a near-exact mirroring of the growth in negatively geared reporting. So whilst it may seem as though the world is turning into an anxiety-inducing black hole, perhaps the reality is that the shift to a 24/7 online news cycle has left me feeling overwhelmed. After all, as we consume particular types of news, algorithms ensure we continue to see more of the same.
So then, we’ve discovered that I like to read the news and it is a massive part of both my job and my character, but also that the news is generally getting more negative over time. What a hoot!
But before I commit to a life of roaming around the country in my van as an off-grid nomad, I thought I better look into what I can do to find a happy medium. So, in the past few weeks I’ve tried a few different things to see what works and what doesn’t.
There've been some misses: I accidentally turned my phone to Aeroplane Mode instead of Do Not Disturb in an effort to get rid of some notifications and in the process missed all sorts of important phone calls; or, when trying mindful meditation, promptly fell asleep over lunch. However, I’ve had some wins too, and thought I’d share them with any of my fellow news-obsessed-nervous-nellies that are out there.
They say a problem shared is a problem halved, and whilst I’m not sure that's quite true here, the sentiment stands strong. Discussing the news with your people (whether friends, family or colleagues) will start to expose you to others’ subjectivity. I work with some smart people and I’ve found that when I am particularly worked up about a story or deep in research about a topic, sharing my thoughts and hearing their personal opinions and perspectives, will drag me out of whatever hole I have fallen into. And I can then take their point of view into consideration.
Am I reading to educate myself about something I am not fully aware about? Or, am I just keeping up to speed with what is going on? Or am I just grazing, mindlessly? Being aware of the reason I’m absorbing news can help me to set boundaries. Because of this, I’ve also become self aware of my behaviours when absorbing the news, and I am beginning to understand the areas that I’m especially sensitive to.
This feels like an obvious one, but balancing out hard hitting journalism and deeply emotional opinion pieces with something more lighthearted is important. Remind yourself that great things are happening out there, but you sometimes have to look for them. For you, maybe this is a never ending list of emergency compliments or the zero-to-hero story of Baarack the sheep. Personally I like to find this type of content on social via @shityoushouldcare or @goodnews_movement, which showcases the human side of the stories that often mainstream media misses.
So, although switching off entirely isn’t an option for me and my solutions are still a work in progress, I suspect an answer is floating around there somewhere. If in doubt? Ask your boss if you can write a blog post about it.
So far, it’s working wonders.
Words by Rose Freeburn, Global Account Manager