What happened when I stopped reading the news for a living
Ever since I was assigned summer reading for 11th grade AP English Language in 2009, I’ve been a voracious reader (and before that, I still read quite a bit).
In May 2009 I bought the complete works of Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe, the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Analects of Confucius, the Tao Te Ching and Hitchens’ God is Not Great with my birthday money, and read them all over the course of the next six months.
Throughout the next year, when I was assigned Grapes of Wrath, I read East of Eden too, when I was assigned a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem I read all of them and then his biography, when I first listened to Sgt. Pepper, Rubber Soul and Revolver, I read a 900-page biography of John Lennon.
At this point in time, I also was a monthly columnist and regular reporter for the high school newspaper. While I did read some news and discovered outlets like Slate, Mother Jones, The Onion and The Atlantic, I mostly read fiction and nonfiction books during this period of my life.
Given I’ve always figured the wisest long-term career choice as a creator is to create what you primarily consume, I figured at this point I’d be a book writer in the long run (though even then I was aware that wasn’t the most feasible reality as an only source of income, at least throughout my twenties).
However, when I entered college and the amount of school reading I had to do (as well as all of the socializing that happens when you first get to college) entirely consumed all the time, energy and attention I was previously putting into reading books as a hobby, I started opting for the shorter, quicker, less attention-consuming alternative that news articles offer.
So from 2011 until two days ago when I decluttered my bookmarks bar, there were at least 30 news sites (just the logo, I deleted the name to fit more) that I’d check out at least once a day almost everyday. This habit continued throughout the time I spent as a Production Designer, Production Manager, Campus News Editor and eventually Editor-in-Chief at my college’s student-run weekly newspaper from 2012 to 2014.
Then, after I graduated, it became my job to read news. In 2015, I started as a Copy Editor and Page Designer at a mid-sized local newspaper, where I read stories from the news wires to choose them for certain pages, read them over for errors and made cuts for space if necessary. Then I’d proofread the pages my colleagues had designed to check for errors and potential improvements to clarity, grammar and accessibility.
So long story short, I was reading a lot of local, national, state, international and entertainment news just about every day I was at work. And even when I wasn’t at work, I was still reading the paper to keep up with what we were publishing.
Now when you read that much news, you know just about every little detail of the biggest headlines of the day and how they develop throughout weeks and months.
You become acutely aware of all the little stories that roused national or even international attention across the board for a brief blip in time, sometimes even just for a day or two, and that everyone’s completely forgotten about three weeks later.
You start seeing these patterns running behind the events that shape the future and start to notice that you see a lot of the same names in stories about certain corners of society and think about how these people effect and/or affect so much in the world or in their communities
You want to talk to everyone in your life about all these things going on in the world and assume they all already know what’s going on because everyone you work with does, but for the most part they have a very surface level of knowledge about what’s going on and don’t have the time that you do to keep up with all the updates, details, twitter jabs, policies, court decisions, mergers, services district elections, city government appointments … it’s hard to have a conversation with almost anyone about all this information you have bouncing off the walls of your short-term memory, but it’s sometimes the only thing you know of to talk about.
News becomes all or most of what you know. Sure you still read books and have all kinds of other hobbies, but news is pretty much your life. In fact, looking back on it, I would usually come home and go on Reddit and proceed to read all the comments on a lot of the same news articles I’d just read. I’d be talking to my family and they’d say, “hey did you see on the news that — ” and before they could even finish I was usually ready to say, “yup, I read about that as it broke yesterday afternoon.”
In all honesty, I stopped reading books for the most part. I developed my addiction to comic books around that time because after a whole day of looking at words on a screen or black and white text on paper, my eyes were too spent to want to stare at a TV show/movie or read a conventional book. I preferred comics because you can take your time with the art and words and the pages are easy on the eyes.
When I eventually realized there wasn’t any room for growth for me at this newspaper and got myself another job, I pretty much stopped reading news entirely for a while. This was right after the election of November 2016, and after the almost daily anxiety that accompanied everything leading up to and following those dark days, I was ready for a break from keeping up with the news on a daily basis.
For a while I would still check out the news sites I used to go to every day, and I kept up with the news a little bit through Reddit, but after mostly abandoning my practice of going to those news sites every day in my personal time (because I was already looking at sites like them all day at work), I slowly and unconsciously stopped really keeping up with the news.
This was partly because I didn’t have anyone to talk about the news with on a regular basis the way I did when I worked with other people who also read the same news for a living, it was also because by the time our current president was elected, any tidbit of news I saw on my phone or read in an email or happened upon however was usually about something people were sick of hearing and talking about.
I still pretty much keep up with a cursory understanding of current events and follow what’s going on in the country (and constantly live with the unsettling understanding of how bad things are right now), but that’s exactly why no one wants to keep up with or talk about it anymore. The national news is almost always depressing on some level or another, and it usually doesn’t lend any clarity to what the hell is going on right now.
Moving away from this topic (the current state of things in the country I live in) that I now have a Pavlovian urge to stay away from, I also noticed that I’ve started reading a lot more conventional books again, now that I teach business owners, instead of read news, for a living. Another friend of mine who stopped working for the newspaper shortly after I did said he noticed the same thing happened to his habits.
Since really finding my bearing at my new job, I read about ten comic books a week and have read The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan Watts, The Nix by Nathan Hill, The Summer of Love and Haight: The 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love by William Schnabel, The Apache Wars by Paul Andrew Hutton, and Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco.
In addition, I’ve started getting back into writing. I frequently wrote news when I worked for the newspaper in college, and I also used to frequently write for fun, but all the reading I was doing when I was a copy editor somehow drained me of the desire to write. Granted, I’ve only been writing regularly again for about a week now, but I already feel like I’m getting back into a good groove and improving my style. The future remains to be seen.
I think a lot of people these days feel like it’s increasingly hard to keep up with the news or even want to, but I still think staying relatively informed is of the utmost importance. I also think the amount of news reading I was doing can begin to wear down on anyone after a while, and as a journalist it’s best most of the time just to hone in on one story, keep up with the details and be an expert in a couple areas instead of trying to keep up with everything all at once.
In the end, I’m glad I’ve developed over time a working knowledge of how to keep up with current events and analyze how they’re reported on by different sources and what they mean in the context of history and our political system. While I don’t think reading news for 8 hours a day is the living for me, I think our Democracy would be a lot healthier if everyone read the news from a variety of sources for at least a half-hour to an hour a day, rather than just watching and listening to one source’s take on it.