Is the news driving you crazy? It’s not the news — it’s how the media reports the news, piling on calamity and suffering — because that’s what sells. We’re subjected to a media diet that damages our mental health and can trigger anxiety and depression. But we have the power to change our media diet, becoming more informed, engaged and empowered.
We can refuse to accept that negative news is the only narrative worth telling; refuse to accept that the news “is the way that it is” and instead decide it should be more balanced in its coverage. Restructuring the way we consume the news is a much simpler way to fix the problems we currently face than restructuring how the news is produced. Humans have great collective power to change for the better, in industries and societies. After all, it is not society or industry that changes, it is people that change.
Here are six steps to change our media diet:
1. Become a Conscious Consumer
Industries that have undergone their own consumer-driven evolution share one thing in common: they rely on a conscious consumer. The news media is no different. In the pursuit of profit, news organizations need audience engagement. It is up to us to be conscious about what we engage with.
A critical requirement of becoming conscious about our news consumption is education. As Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ Once we are educated about the helpful and harmful effects of the news, we can shift from being merely consumers to being conscious consumers. Then, we can embrace solutions-focused news as part of our balanced media diet. This change can improve our individual psychological well-being but can also, as a side effect, motivate the industry to meet this new demand.
2. Read/Watch Good-Quality Journalism
The conflict between good-quality journalism and profitability is not just a problem for the industry; it is our problem to solve too. We rely so heavily on the news to help us understand as well as help shape our society, and poor-quality information leads to poor-quality decisions. We cannot abdicate from this responsibility by believing that our actions don’t matter. Our actions do matter — human beings still have the capacity to create change. Let us be the ones to make quality news profitable and abundant once again. Traditional industry leaders in the media may fear change and experimentation as it is their livelihood on the line and they have their own vision. However, they can often be convinced by demonstration.
3. Burst Your Filter Bubble
The news was not founded on ideals of entertainment. Its goal was to educate, inform and empower us — by helping us understand the world beyond our personal experience of it. Can you imagine if schools, which also exist to educate a large audience, used the commercial case that by giving their pupils what they want, they are more likely to come back in the next day? We understand that school is about long-term objectives over immediate pleasure, and we need to look at the news the same way. News should not be about entertainment, as is the trend today, and we need to expect more of it.
4. Be Prepared to Pay for Content
We cannot have a free and independent press if we are not willing to pay for the content. If news organizations have to rely on advertising to be their main source of income, then corporations and their needs will take priority over our needs as consumers. Simply, we must be prepared to support news organizations to enable them to truly become independent, whether by buying the newspaper or magazine, subscribing either online or offline, or simply donating to news organizations that value good-quality journalism.
5. Read Beyond the News
Thomas Jefferson said, “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” I would have to agree. We cannot solely rely on news organizations to educate us on world issues. Today’s information-rich environment offers plenty of valuable sources.
Fiction helps us flex our emotional muscles, developing empathy and understanding. Nonfiction provides well-researched depth, insight and knowledge. Documentaries take a deep-dive into a specific issue happening in the world. Podcasts help us connect with and learn about the world and each other. Trusted organizations, such as TED, feature the world’s most inspired thinkers. Good sources provide good-quality information, enabling you to make good-quality decisions.
6. Read Solutions-Focused News
Whether you believe the news is too negative or not, the news does affect how you view and feel about the world, yourself and others. We should all understand the potential impact of the news on our mental health and become more deliberate about how we consume the news.
By including solutions in your media diet, you give yourself the necessary information needed, over time, to feel inspired. Seeing others progress and develop in the face of personal, local, national or global challenges ignites a sense of possibility. It creates a feeling of optimism, hope and empowerment — the emotional fuel we need to mobilize our own potential. We can a positive force in this world, not by ignoring problems but by feeding ourselves the information we need to feel motivated and able to tackle problems head-on.
With so much choice in our modern-day media environment, we do not need to wait for the industry to change. We can create this change ourselves. By deliberately creating a more balanced media diet that includes solutions as well as problems, we become aware that the world is filled with incredible people doing incredible things. It is up to us to find them, learn from them, be inspired by them. These stories inspire us to create change — changing not just the media, but also potentially changing the world.