Americans need a healthier diet of news. Evidence of our poor news consumption habits is everywhere and it’s making us less and less healthy as a nation and as neighbors.
We long ago made it possible to see almost exactly what you’re putting in your body when you eat thanks for nutrition labels and ingredient lists. Such a simple label on the side of your news wouldn’t work very well, but can you imagine if it did?
What would the mental nutrition info of your media diet look like if you could summarize it in the same way we can talk about calories, fat and fiber on the side of a cereal carton?
Most Americans are consuming a steady media diet of total junk food, like Facebook headlines, Twitter bits and click-bait stories. On top of that layer of junk, they’re eating their own weight in politically fatty Trump-infused stories from sources that confirm how they already feel.
And because none of that is very filling, they eat a lot of it — more than anyone should. Relatively few people ever touch the fruits and vegetables of local news and long-form journalism.
The result is unsurprising: Our understanding of the world around us is about as healthy as someone who stuffs their face with Cheetos every morning, downs a gallon of Kool-Aid in the afternoon, eats a triple cheeseburger for dinner and leaves the bananas on the kitchen counter to turn black.
Our consumption of news needs moderation, just like our consumption of food. Here are some ways you can make sure you’re “eating your news” in a way that allows you to lead a happy and healthy life:
• Read a print newspaper. Everyone likes to talk about the 24-hour news cycle and argue about who broke the news first these days, while completely ignoring how badly that philosophy has degraded the quality of what we read. Print newspapers come out the next day (weeklies come out the next week), after there’s time for the facts to settle and journalists to work on verification.
When you read a print newspaper, it can be calming, even therapeutic. You aren’t trying to grasp at whatever crumbs just showed up; you aren’t focused on wild speculation. You can take a breath and enjoy gaining some knowledge that’s worth having.
• Read news you disagree with. Far too many people right now only read opinion columns that blast Trump for yet another egregious screw-up; or tune in to Fox News so they can listen to someone skewer Democrats. No one is taking the time to listen to people who are different from them, so we all think our opponents are the straw men we’ve made them out to be.
The next time you want to read or watch that media source that makes you feel like you’re right, do a little digging and find something else that doesn’t mirror your beliefs. Try to consume news from that source with an open mind, and see if you don’t wind up broadening your own perspective.
• Take a break. Humans are generally supposed to eat about 2,000 calories a day. There’s a healthy limit to the amount of news we consume, as well. Limit your daily media intake in some way — the right amount is different for every person — so that you have to pick and choose what you read, listen to or watch.
With a limit in place, you’ll be more careful about what you consume and more likely to nix the low-value, high-fat content you used to shovel in without thinking before. And the high-value media you do consume will have more impact and be easier to remember later, since your mind won’t be drowning in an ocean of tweets and breaking news.
If more Americans would begin to think about the healthiness of the news they consume, we hope there could also be an added benefit: media reform.
If people aren’t willing to sacrifice hours of their time to ad-driven social media feeds anymore, if they aren’t clicking on every headline that screams about Washington politicians, then media companies won’t have as much of a market for the junk food they make now, and they’ll have to get better at providing the healthy news we need.