In our society, abundance is widely considered a good thing. However, many of us know that it can have a dark side too. If one isn’t intentional about what he or she consumes, it can lead to some unfortunate consequences.
There’s no shortage of expert advice on how to manage what we eat or how we spend money. Unfortunately there’s not nearly enough discussion on how to be a more mindful consumer of news — which is plentiful and often free. I am hoping this essay sparks a wider conversation.
News, when consumed improperly, can not only rob us of our precious time, but it can also mask truly useful information in favor of fun but often trivial viral misinformation. It can even overwhelm us if it gets to what some call a “fear of missing out” or FOMO stage
With this in mind, here are three strategies to consider if you want to be a more purposeful consumer of news. Oddly enough they mirror some of the common best practices for managing a financial portfolio.
Each of these ideals has been reversed engineered from the many hours I have spent unpacking how the masters of media are now getting eyeballs on their stories in an era of increased content fragmentation.
Balance the Three Pathways to News
In a digital environment there are arguably only three pathways to news: direct engagement, referrals via search engines and serendipitous discovery through social media.
In the case of direct engagement, you are in 100% control of where you focus your attention. You decide what news apps to download, what sites to bookmark and what email newsletters and podcasts are worth subscribing to. And it’s relatively easy to opt out.
In the case of search, you are partially in control. Once you enter your keywords, a highly tuned algorithm that is backed by 20 years of data and a relentless focus on quality strips out most of the junk and delivers relevant results. (Garbage in, can result in garbage out however.)
With social media, it can be a different story. You only have two choices — who to friend/follow and what to click. Then content finds you through the lens of your friends. This human aspect can greatly influence what news makes it into your feed. Quality can vary based on the social network, the device, the time of day, your friends, your previous clicks and more.
All three have merits but what they deliver can differ vastly. (Our research reveals that search trumps all when it comes to the public’s trust.)
The key is to use all three modes. Don’t rely on just one. And tune them. Visit quality publishers. Know how to use Google’s Advanced Search features and build highly curated social streams.
Just as with asset allocation, it’s important to balance your time across all three modes of news discovery and not over index on any one of them.
Follow the Money. Invest Time Where You Don’t Feel Duped
In “All the President’s Men” there’s a great line that Deep Throat used to guide Woodward and Bernstein in their pursuit of the Watergate story — “follow the money.” Ironically, this same advice works today toward becoming a more intentional consumer of news.
Most publishers have two or three core revenue streams — advertising, subscriptions and services (research / events). Advertising is usually the largest. However, the quality is fragmenting dramatically as more ads are now bought and sold through digital trading desks and as media proliferates.
If you feel a publisher you frequent is starting to use clickbait tricks to get you to engage with their content and ads, ask yourself if it could be a sign that they are desperate for money. Use this as a trigger to re-evaluate your time.
More positively, follow investments too. If you see new hires, new beats being created, more expansive coverage and higher quality, more relevant ads, ask yourself if the site is going in a direction you like.
The key is to be mindful of all of the impact of financial upswings and downswings. Then see if it might be time to change it up.
Manage Your News Like a Boss But then Put it on Autopilot
Many people who aren’t news junkies don’t use news aggregation apps. However, anecdotally, I find once they are exposed to them and take the time to set them up, they deliver compound returns over time. It also gives people a feeling of control while exposing them to more content they care about from a diversity or sources.
Two apps that I love are Flipboard and Nuzzel. Take the time to set them up, learn their new features and put them to use.
Related, be on the lookout for great digital curators. I follow MediaRedef and Robert Scoble religiously on Flipboard because they help me find great content in two of my passions — tech and media. There are some great email based curators out there too like Dave Pell’s Next Draft and Dan Lewis’s Now I Know. Find these and subscribe.
Set up the systems and then put them on automatic pilot so they compound.
Hopefully you found these tips helpful.