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24-hour news is like water, you need to turn it off sometimes

Posted on 16 April 2013

24 hours

Here’s a quote I saved recently from Ryan Holiday:

“An entrepreneur friend of mine remarked to me recently that if someone invented the nightly news today—or a show like Brian Williams’ “Rock Center”—we’d all think it was a great idea.

“Think about it: Instead of having to follow all these different news sources, you could just tune in, get a digest of all the important stuff that happened, and you could trust that it had been verified, that it was balanced and high-quality, and would all be well-produced.”

His point is that because the nightly news came first, and 24-hour news/social media came second, the assumption tends to be that the latter is better. But just think how great it would be if instead of having to be constantly tuned and plugged in, you could just sit down for an hour a day and get all that information, filtered and vetted in an easy-to-understand way. Or have it delivered to your doorstep every morning to browse through while drinking coffee.

I was reminded of this yesterday when news of the Boston bombings broke. The first reaction, of course, is “how awful” but the next reaction (that, if I’m being honest, came at almost exactly the same time) was, “Now we’re going to get to see footage of crying people for the next twenty-four hours.”

It’s a difficult thing to reconcile. On the one hand, you WANT that information, and you want it as it comes. This is especially true if you or someone you know is directly affected by the event. But at the same time, not that much new information is coming out very quickly, so you wind up wallowing in emotional depths, re-watching the same footage, and most invasive of all going to victims and finding out “how do you feel?”

There is no easy answer for the media. Jamie Weinman sums up the conundrum well:

“In a strange way, the logical thing would be for them to move on to other stories and come back to the Boston attacks when more information comes in. But that would seem insensitive. So they have to stay on Boston nonstop, even though they have no news about what happened or who did it.”

His whole column is well worth a read, and the essential point is TV networks and everything that goes along with them are currently stuck in this pattern. But just because makers of media are stuck in this cycle, it doesn’t mean consumers have to be.

I made a conscious decision yesterday to pull away from the footage and the websites and just come back to the coverage once in the evening and once more this morning. And it worked. I felt informed without being overwhelmed.

News is like water or electricity: it’s constantly flowing, available at all times. Behind-the-scenes people are working to keep it going so that it’s there when you need it. But that doesn’t mean you have to leave your taps on all the time, drinking it all in. Turn it off, step away, and come back when you need it. It’s healthier that way.

photo:  “open 24 hours” by aubergene

Filed under: Best Of, media

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