At the end of the day, if you don’t think about what nourishes you, you’re getting used to a certain set of perspectives without even realizing it.

Why We Read the News (and how to do it)

Jihii Jolly
5 min readNov 2, 2017


This is an essay to accompany a lesson plan & contest I’ve worked with Katherine Schulten at the New York Times Learning Network to develop for media literacy week. Check it out here. Teens around the world can submit to the contest here.

The first time I read the news and felt like I could keep up with the grown-ups was in the second grade.

We read a Time for Kids issue about the Clinton-Dole 1996 presidential election in school and I felt proud of the fact that I knew who Bob Dole was. I could have an entire conversation about him at dinner. These were real people doing real things in our country, in real time. It wasn’t like school, where everything you’re learning about happened so long ago that you feel like you’re playing a 12 year long game of catch up. Then, finally, maybe, you get a seat at the table of people talking about Now.

Everyone was talking about the election and this time, I could too.

One would think that after such an invigorating learning experience, I would become a news junkie. I did and I didn’t. I spent the next two decades chasing that feeling of being informed. The feeling of things having a neat beginning, middle and end. I never found it.

Instead, “news” became more and more plentiful, my ability to access information at all times of day expanded, and my feeling of being lost in a sea of information deepened.

During summer vacations, I would take out the New York Times intending to read it, but I’d get so incredibly bored and start watching TV instead. Other times, when watching the evening news with my family, I’d go to my room and rewrite what I was hearing, to be sure I got it, and I could say it in my own words.

And so, I realized, it wasn’t being informed that felt so good, it was being able to socially engage with others about the news — prove myself, in a sense. But when there was no community to engage in conversation, or ask questions of, or show off my reading to, I’d much rather read a book, or watch a movie about something I really cared about, not follow the news.

I grew increasingly bothered by how up and down the news would make me feel. At times I’d be inspired by a part of the world I would never otherwise have access to. At other times, I felt completely lost following a story I just didn’t have the time or context needed to really get. And at others, I felt numb, in a sort of haze of “I know a little bit about a lot of unpleasant things and have no agency to do anything about them.”

When I decided to become a journalist, it was, in part, to understand how this machine — one that that had so much influence on me — worked. I became obsessed with the production of news, and all the questions surrounding it. What I discovered is that different people make and consume news for different reasons and a really interesting way to learn about other people is to learn about how and why they consume information. I then actually fell in love with journalism, because I love diving deeply into communities I don’t understand very well.

Now, I read and watch news very selectively. Sometimes not following a story is as important as following another one. And I no longer do it to feel informed.

To not be tired, bored or numbed by “the news,” we have to understand why we’re following it in the first place.

There are two kinds of following

First, if something tremendous happens in the world, like an unexpected attack, storm, war or election, whether or not you want to know about it, if you’re a socially engaged person, you’re probably, at least peripherally, going to know what’s going on.

A lot of us simply consume what comes across our screens and inboxes from newsletters we have subscribed to and apps we’ve downloaded, or pages we’ve liked, or friend requests from friends who really like to post on Facebook. On slow news days, that means you’ll always have a decent sense of what is happening in the world, and on heavy news days, you’ll have a variety of perspectives, most of which probably don’t challenge you, unless things are getting heated in online debates.

But the second kind of following is following the news intentionally and constructing a diet to match those intentions, much like we construct a food diets to nourish our unique physical needs as human beings. This is a metaphor we’re beginning to hear a lot, but hardly practicing.

For me and for a lot of people I’ve spoken with, news — however you define the term — is social currency. Unless you have to know about something because it directly informs your job or life circumstances, chances are everything you consume is probably because you’re interested in it, you have people in your networks interested in it, or you want to know more about it to enrich your relationships or build new ones.

At the end of the day, if you don’t think about what nourishes your body, your mind and your relationships and you just scroll through whatever comes your way, you’re actually getting used to a certain set of perspectives without even realizing it.

How to read the news

For media literacy week (Nov 6–10), I’ve worked with The New York Times Learning Network to develop a lesson plan and that teachers and students can use to start assessing and messing with their own diets. It’s written for students, but really, anyone can use it.

This is part of a larger work — a forthcoming book — on how to read the news that will be out next year. For updates, essays, tools and tips, subscribe to my newsletter. Or, get in touch to collaborate.

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Thanks to Leonard Bogdonoff for the illustrations.



Jihii Jolly

Writing about care and intentional news consumption. Subscribe for weekly letters at