Newspapers

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” – Thomas Jefferson

Around two years ago I stopped watching and reading mainstream news. I don’t read a single newspaper, offline or online, and I don’t watch any TV at all. I  mentioned this on Twitter and Facebook, and it created a lot of discussion, so I wanted to expand on my thoughts and experiences.

When I first started ignoring news, I felt that I was simply making an excuse, that if I had more time I should read the news. Today, however, it is a very deliberate choice and I feel consistently happier every single day due to ignoring the mainstream news. It just so happens that the last two years have also been the most enjoyable and productive of my entire life and have contained some of my greatest achievements. Here are a few reasons I think we should stop consuming mainstream news:

News is negative

“The news media are, for the most part, the bringers of bad news… and it’s not entirely the media’s fault, bad news gets higher ratings and sells more papers than good news.” – Peter McWilliams

The most interesting fact I learned in the last few years about mainstream media is that almost all news reported is negative. Studies have shown that the ratio of bad news to good news is around 17:1. That means that 95% is negative. This is a massive number, and I’m sure if you stop to think for a moment about the most recent news you watched, it has also been overwhelmingly negative. In my experience, 95% is absolutely the correct ratio in the news. However, 95% is a very bad reflection of the real ratio of good to bad in the world. Many great things happen, they just don’t sell newspapers.

Mainstream news report about wars, natural disasters, murders and other kinds of suffering. It seems the only natural conclusion of watching or reading mainstream news is that the world is a terrible place, and that it is getting worse every day. However, the reality of course is the complete opposite: We live in an amazing time and the human race is improving at a faster pace than ever before.

The effect of negative news

“When you turn on the television, for instance, you run the risk ingesting harmful things, such as violence, despair, or fear.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Another very interesting thing I’ve learned in the last few years is the incredible impact that being around the right people can have on your trajectory to achieving what you want. This comes down essentially to your environment, and while it can mean some hard decisions to change our environment, we actually have a lot of control over it.

I believe these two aspects—that we are subconsciously affected by our environment, no matter how much willpower we believe ourselves to have, and that we have much more control over our environment than we realize—have been key factors of some of the success I’ve had in the last few years.

In a TED talk titled “Information is food”, JP Rangaswami compared eating McDonald’s for 31 days, as in Supersize Me, to watching Fox News for 31 days. In essence, mainstream news is the fast food of information. There are much healthier types of information we can and should consume.

The opportunity cost of watching news

The other key thing that I think it can be easy to overlook is what you could be doing in the time you are spending watching the news.

I remember as a kid, my parents always used to watch the 6 o’clock news. It became so ingrained, it was what would always happen at exactly 6pm, and if we didn’t watch it, we would surely miss out on something vital that could affect our lives.

As a teenager, over time I managed to gradually escape that more and more often. At first, I simply turned to something I enjoyed. I played games online in the evenings instead of sitting with my family and watching the news. The most interesting thing, however, is that my passion for gaming turned into a powerful hobby of learning to code, and I accredit this for a lot of my startup success.

Not only is watching news going to put an out-of-proportion amount of negative thoughts in your mind, which will affect what you can achieve, it is also valuable time where there are many amazing and meaningful things you could be doing:

Try a month off mainstream news

Abstaining from mainstream news has been one of the single best decisions I’ve made in the last two years for both my productivity and my happiness. If you’re still in a habit of watching or reading news, I strongly recommend you take Thomas Jefferson’s advice and try a month off news:

“I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”

Do you read or watch mainstream news? Have you thought about stopping consuming it? Have you also given it up and felt better? I’d love to hear from you.

Photo credit: Jon S

This post originally appeared on my personal website, Joel.is. If you’d like, you can browse the archives there for more stories on startups, life, learning, and happiness.

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Written by Joel Gascoigne

Joel is the founder and CEO at Buffer. He is focused on the lean startup approach, user happiness, transparency & company culture. Say hi to him anytime @joelgascoigne.

  • Found the same thing to be true about a year ago and have largely been news-free since. Totally worth it.

    http://joshpigford.com/desensitization-unbalance-taking-news-sabbatical

  • My moratorium on mainstream news started in 2010. It was a simple matter of self preservation at the time because my husband was deployed to Afghanistan and there was nothing good – and a lot of potentially bad – to be gained from watching or reading the news. But after that 7 month period, when we were living in Japan and already detaching a bit from what was happening back home in the States, I realized I didn’t want to reunite with the traditional news media. I had been happier without it. It wasn’t about embracing ignorance but about choosing not to introduce stress over things that I had no ability to control (tragedies, economic problems, etc). Some of my friends and family find this odd but I’m 4 years into this and I won’t be deterred. It’s a simple choice to budget my time and emotions elsewhere. And in those times when something actionable happens that I care about, I always find out. It’s inevitable. And then I can take action or research the situation myself. Thanks for sharing your thoughts because it’s nice to know others feel this way, too!

    • patty

      Our journey into the world of “no TV” began in 1992 when my husband was deployed to Japan. Actually, we could get TV, just couldn’t understand it. :) We had access to a military station, and learned about happenings worldwide, as I recall. We returned to the states and a newly elected President Clinton, having missed the entire campaign. :)
      Our kids were now 2nd-3rd grade and we didn’t get TV/cable (our antenna pulled in one local station) until they left for college. My Mom always thought we were nuts. My response too was, if anything happens, she’d tell me about it.

      Reruns of Criminal Minds suits me fine in the evenings. Social media shares what is important and then I go look for details.

  • funktioneer0521

    The Buffer Feeds ad makes the Blog nearly unreadable on iphone.

    • Courtney Seiter

      Wow, great point! Just tried this post out on my phone and I definitely see what you’re talking about–it’s far from an optimal experience. So sorry to cause you that annoyance. I’m going to see if we can’t make that a lot less obtrusive. Thanks for bringing it up!

      • Courtney Seiter

        Quick update: This should be fixed now! Again, giant thanks for the heads up.

  • I started to ignore all mainstream world (not just news but music and even people) completely about 6 years ago. Totally worth it. My parents says I’m crazy.

  • Joel, can I give you a virtual pound? Or maybe I should just yell “amen!” – because this is the TRUTH! I began attending a number of business/personal development seminars in 2008. These mentors opened my eyes to see how marketing affects our thoughts – and ultimately our realities – IF we allow it. I never realized how much the mainstream media “sells” us FEAR. EFFECTIVE marketing creates a “problem” (which in the news is fear, anxiety, worry, etc.) and then “sells” you the solution. The solution is everything from flu vaccines, pharmaceutical drugs, to increased security in American airports (I won’t even get into that LOL), to the latest dietary fads – and the list goes on and on.

    Like you, I realized that watching the news (especially at night) was *literally* increasing my anxiety, making me paranoid and causing me nightmares. I stopped watching the mainstream news on a regular basis. I MIGHT glance at it once per month – if that –and have gotten in a few debates with some friends and family about this. Some of my older relatives (especially those in Trinidad) didn’t understand why I’d leave the room when the news came on.

    I wish that I could say that I’m as disciplined as you in the avoiding TV area, but that would be a lie. :) I’m an avid user of the DVR (Best. Invention. EVERRR!) and occasionally indulge in a binge viewing session a 1-2 times week, or on the weekend. Hey, it’s my guilty pleasure! HGTV is my Boo Thang and I’m not quite ready to break up. I’m a work in progress. LOL

    I DO, however, make sure to replenish the brain cells I’ve depleted by reading the Buffer blog and many other useful resources on a daily basis. :)

    • Thea, we have some things in common. My DVR is seriously my Boo Thang, too… :) And I shamelessly rely on the likes of the Buffer crew and select others to help me redeem myself. I think we’re OK as long as we realize what we do and make a conscious choice to do it…. and keep it reasonable!

  • Agnes Dadura

    I always say that one of best things about living in a far away country is that the local news don’t interest me, and my country’s news are no longer relevant (also, can only be read on-line which takes a big annoying edge of them already). Now I only tune in for big events (like the Russian aggression in Ukraine – since I’m Polish, I’m worried it will spread) and local natural disasters reports (we had an earthquake this morning, and typhoon season is coming, so need to be on lookout for typhoon holidays days). Overall, yes, the news often spread not only negativity as in “oh, that’s sad”, but anger and hatred. I think it’s healthy to opt-out.

  • I wonder why this post received just 39 tweets as I write this comment. That’s not Buffer’s usual average. Does this prove the point that people inadvertently (or perhaps deliberately) avoid suggestions to keep away from daily news?

    • Courtney Seiter

      Hey Partha! Great critical thinking there! We’re still experimenting with the Open blog as a new source of content beyond our normal transparency reports and team news. That might have something to do with it. Or perhaps your theory is quite right! Either way, thanks for reading!

  • This paper might interest you:

    Avoid news – Towards a healthy news diet, by Rolf Dobelli:

    http://www.dobelli.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Avoid_News_Part1_TEXT.pdf

  • Sid

    I do share the thought that the newspapers spread bad news more profoundly…thats why i read the sports section and then the lighter celeb gossip section…i will surely try this News free path…

  • Mark-John Clifford

    For the past few years I have been avoiding the news on TV, newspapers and online in general just for this reason. Life is good. My only question is why wouldn’t good news sell if presented in the right way.

    After seeing all the comments here and more after writing an article about this last year I could see the upside of a newspaper reporting all the good doing okay. It may not be the next New York times, but I bet it would work in this day and age.

    The thing is how to start it. If I could get the right people and possibly company behind it then I’d say let’s go.

    Joel want to try a newspaper for Good?

  • christopherk67

    Completely agree! I’ve neither read the newspapers nor watched TV for more than 10 years now because it is always doomsday-depressing or mind-numbing! I have learnt to choose when and with what I want to stay aware of what what’s happening. Consequently I am a happier person. Those who create today’s media manipulate knowingly or unknowingly what they share, as Joel wisely states, in order to increase viewing and / or sales or to stay in line with political beliefs. Passively accepting another’s view point on reality where a positive-negaitve balance is lacking, inevitably interferes with our own perception abilities. Our perception filters become polluted, in this case, with negativity, and we progressively look at things from a negative stand-point.

  • I’m already without t.v. and have been for a long time, and I find it challenging not to look over someone’s shoulder on the tube, or while commuting at some of the ridiculous headlines in the commuter paper, free in the morning and evening. They are terrible. But even beyond that, advertising is all around us as well, so at best, I try to be absorbed in a book or a good podcast about something interesting. The book “The News” A users manual” is a good one about what the news should do, and if you read things, how to make those things more useful and practical in your daily life. A nice philosophical read, but very easy to digest.

  • I gave up TV a few years ago, which was well worth it. I usually get my news once a week from The Economist, which I think is a little more balanced than the mainstream in terms of positivity/negativity. I think it’s still good to keep up, just to keep current on how the world works, but avoid the repetitive and mindless ‘filler’ that is a big part of the news. If something big happens then I usually find out via Twitter.

  • suyogmody

    Great topic and nice post!
    I gave up reading mainstream newspapers (physical and online) about 3-4 years ago. There’s too much daily stuff to absorb and it largely has no effect or meaning to me.
    In place of this, I used to Twitter to indicate my interest by following people or topics that I am interested in and allow the “news” (or content) to find me. It was uncomfortable at first, felt like I must be missing out on something. But after a few months, and now many years, it just seems natural.
    There is something about the physical feel of a freshly printed newspaper, the smell of ink or the crispness of the pages or the tactile feeling, that I enjoy a few days in a year when visiting parents. I’m hoping someone can make that feeling come back somehow online.

  • Great post, I really agree with the negativity of mainstream news. Every time I start reading a proper newspaper, I feel helpless at all the bad things that are happening that are out of control. It is indeed healthier and more productive to focus on what’s around me that I can change for the better. Shall try this out.

  • Well, I would not focus on the downside.
    Think positive when you see 5% good News the good News will shine much brighter!

  • Yes, I tell all my friends that watching daily TV news is a daily dose of poison. I find that the people I know who are largely negative and pessimistic are the highest consumers of mass media.
    For the last umpteen years I have been quite happy with scanning a few headlines to keep up with what is happening the world. For those subjects that I am interested in I research non-mass media sources.
    Is there a movement, manifesto, or organization to make the world a better place for people like us?
    Cheers,

  • I totally agree. I rarely watch the news on TV and only very occasionally read newspapers. I’m much happier for it!

  • Have followed the same practice for a long time. The worst offenders are mainstream TV, followed by tabloid newspapers and magazines. They have contributed to the general dumbing down of the public.

  • I haven’t read a newspaper or owned a television for over 7 years. That old adage no news is good news in this context is absolutely true. Mainstream media simply encourages title tattle, gossip and negative sentiment. I choose not to live in that world, what you focus on expands. Looking at what others are saying in the comments about feeling happier and more productive since giving up the news treadmill, I’m clearly in good company :-)!

  • The Franchise Mall

    I truly believe I accomplish more at work and at Square dancing because I watch very little Mainstream news. I’m not alone. The same is true of many of my “better” colleagues. I publish Franchise news. That’s the news that interests me. The proportion of “Bad” Franchise news is not 95%. Oh! Who’s in the Stanley cup play-offs? LOL

  • I can remember when I was suffering with depression. Anytime I would watch the news, it would place me even deeper into the pit of despair!

    Thank you for this post, it is reassuring!

  • Kalpana Chauhan

    Closing your eyes to whtver happening around you just because a lot is bad is no sensible things. result of this is an unaware youth, who has no idea of what is happening worldwide and how as a citizen they should behave..they don’t know whom to vote coz they don’t understand the implications of all the economic and social policies of parties..
    Just bothered about online games, food and fun is not what life is about!

    • GusD

      How well is the ‘aware’ youth working out, hmm? You’re addicted.

      • Kalpana Chauhan

        Well, I am this aware that I don’t do personal comments on people without knowing them.

        • GusD

          Fair enough. I’m happy to do so and make assumptions about people who feel the desperate need to be told about the world’s negative shit all the time. I suppose some people like watching Survivor or The Bachelor, though, so I shouldn’t be surprised by the voyerism and shallowness.

          • Kalpana Chauhan

            There is more to news that your so-called negative shit. I guess you hv skewed vision. More than that you have enough time. So you are free to throw some more crap and make this like news that you hate..and i shall be staying away from it! Hv a nice day.

          • GusD

            No, there isn’t. The news doesn’t report when a plane gets to it’s destination safely – only when it flies into a mountain. All news is negative.

  • Tanmay Kapoor

    Before we consign the mainstream media into the dustbin, please consider the sample set of the contributors to the discussion. They have not been the subject of the negative media feed themselves, in other words, nothing bad enough (newsworthy) has happened to them yet. Ask the victims of any such tragedy (natural or manmade) and you may start allowing an alternate view more room in your mind

  • A newspaper publisher once told me there are only 3 stories: heroes, villains, and victims. Mainstream news is simply a hamster wheel of these stories. It’s a very unproductive use of time.

  • Kunal

    Joel,

    While I applaud the tone of your piece, I find your thesis reductive and lacking acknowledgement of a few basic points.

    1. ‘Mainstream media’ as a homogeneous term seems a naïve analysis in this day in age.
    Digital media has fragmented news to such an extent now that we no longer need be spoon-fed by a “newspaper” or “the television”. Filter your RSS feed on The Guardian or the BBC and you need never read “negative news”. Rather than watch partisan sensationalist news like Fox, try watching Channel 4 News in the UK that draws out human stories of the marginalised and oppressed, giving an important voice (and existence) to those that would never otherwise have it.

    2. To shut yourself off to all news is effectively like a form of state censorship. In my experience people who shut themselves off to bad things, are prescribing to an “ignorance is bliss” maxim.
    It is the same sort of premise that allows regimes in North Korea to bask in a single-minded view of the world, prescribing themselves to an argument that people are more comfortable with what they know than what they don’t. I find that troubling.

    3. Yes, many great things do happen in the world, and their position in it is usually linked to progress, economics and enlightenment.
    Rather than seeing it as a single piece of “bad news”, try and think of it like this: there is a deeper context and significance to each news piece – one that effectively binds us as a society.
    Take natural disasters: these are often indicative of a wider trend of climate change that is to do with our own collective behaviour as human beings.
    War is often a result of failed political systems or negotiations that history has not yet taught us lessons on. These lessons that cannot be learned from or advanced if we’re to simply shut ourselves off to all of it.
    Had not we experienced and seen the bloodshed and suffering from US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, we could very well have ended up intervening in Syria, or making similar mistakes in wars abroad.
    If the next generation of young people are simply shutting themselves off to news, they are effectively disregarding history and the opportunity to have an important stake in a collective society.
    More troubling is the idea that they could “go to the gym”, “build an MVP” or “write an article” instead.
    To me the takeout of this approach is effectively: why do I need to know about anything distressing happening in the world, when I can impose my own ideas and work on the world instead?
    It seems a very “me-centric” way to look at the world, and I can’t help feeling history will judge the next generation more poorly for it.

    • GusD

      Wow, you seem desperate to cling to the happenings in the lives of other people, rather than yourself. I guess you’re what people that want to get away from news, don’t want to be like.

  • Pingback: The Power of Ignoring Mainstream News - XTBlog!()

  • nsauser

    I totally agree with cutting out mainstream media. And you’re right, there are many more productive things to be doing in life other than sitting around wasting time. I get my news from the No Agenda Show (http://noagendashow.com) and that seems to suffice just fine. I totally avoid any local news as it’s usually poorly sourced and reported.

  • Joel, awesome post and awesome to know you are not watching mainstream news as well. I have stopped watching mainstream news about 3 years ago. Since then I have seen probably 5 minutes of it and it was pretty depressing. So basically I only ask other people around me if I am keen on what is going on, but most of the time I only search for what I like or want. Like now – reading all your and Buffers blog posts once a week for an hour or two is way more better for me.
    Highly recommended approach to anyone – try stop watching and reading mainstream media and news for a month and instead of that time use it for spending more time with your family, yourself or with others and you will see how tremendous effect it will have. I have set myself free :-)

  • Elad Miterany

    Hi Joel,
    I also started to consume less and less news. It began with unsubscribe the printed paper few years ago and continued with canceled the cable. it feels very good, satisfied as well.

  • I wholeheartedly agree. I stopped watching the news when the company I worked for was going through an acquisition. Life was stressful already and I noticed I became even more anxious when I was watching a news program.

    Since then I’ve come to realize the news is really an entertainment program, rating on the same level as “reality” TV.

    It’s been five years since I’ve watched the news and I’m constantly asked how I’ve come to be such a positive person. I’m diligent about what I consume psychologically and that has made the difference.

  • cacl

    I thought it was just me. I have recently felt overwhelmed with fear mongering coming from the web, tv, and print. I can’t handle the negativity anymore. I googled “stop watching the news” to see if it was me and I am happy to see that I am not the only one who feels this way. I am going to give it a try, but I think the hard part is going to be the web – it seems like bad news is everywhere.

  • Blade Thruster

    I think this applies to all forms. Movies, TV, Music, News, and even some types of reading (novels, etc) have fallen to that ‘mainstream’ appeal. I’m just not interested. I’m not interested in buying the upcoming Call of Duty game just because it contains highly detailed, flashy graphics. I’m not interested in watching FOX News just to hear Bill O’Reilly say “America has fallen”.

    Mainstream news is nothing but cliche. I’ve probably heard of a thousand murders and a thousand car chases to last me a lifetime. It brings constant sorrow and grief to it’s viewers. Whether it’s CNN or Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, I already have enough stress on my life.

    Today creative talent and innovation doesn’t come from the mainstream. It comes from lesser known sources, such as underground indie bands, rap artists, personal blogs, and the such. It seems that magazines like TIME repeat the same ‘worrisome’ subject, and the news itself in it isn’t enough to keep readers subscribing. With all the choices we have now, it amazes me that people still watch FOX News and read TIME magazine. Though the vast majority of those who do happen to be the aging Baby Boomers and the World War II generation, who aren’t connected to the Internet in the same fashion us Millennials and Generation X are.

  • Troy

    A great thing I heard from a friend’s dad who’s really into personal growth and achievement said, that you should never watch the news because everything is negative and the stuff that matters you’ll here about anyway.