The Great Filter Project Continues
How to Opt Out of News While Accessing Information You Want
These days I find the media to be a cesspool of hate, fear, hyperbole, and star-fucking that provides little value while raising the amount of cortisol in my bloodstream to heretofore unseen levels. I simply do not have enough room in my brain to focus on the important things in my everyday life while at the same time reading and hearing about Elon Musk’s latest rant, Taylor Swift’s love life, or who will win an election between a pair of inept octogenarians. It’s all too much.
But news is ubiquitous, so it is nearly impossible to completely opt out. Nor should you have to opt out entirely to get the news you want. What’s a former news junkie to do?
Before I share what I’m doing, I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting that there are not important things happening in the world that we need to know, or of which we should be aware. The situation in Israel is horrific, but it’s important to stay informed. Climate change is indeed a crisis we need to monitor. The rise of fascism around the world is getting worse (I’m talking about you Argentina and Holland). So yeah, I’d like to keep that stuff coming but not 24 hours per day.
The great Indigo Girls song suggests the less I seek my source for some definitive the closer I am to fine. I say the same is true for news — the less I read and hear the better I feel. So these days I’m trying to balance the input to avoid negative output. Truthfully, the news makes me rage and you don’t want to be around me when I’m angry. I can be a real asshole. Here are some of the ways I’m limiting my news intake (and I’d love to hear how you’re doing the same):
I don’t watch national television news. The detail you get in a 30-minute broadcast on the major networks is not nearly enough for someone to understand what is going on. Meanwhile, the cable news outlets pontificate about the same story days on end to the point where there is more opinion and speculation than anything else. For fuck’s sake, I don’t want to hear about the tactics of the war in Israel from some fascist former general named “spider” who wouldn’t understand peace if it knocked him on his ass. And peace is really all I care about. How and when will we get there? As for the talking heads — while I may agree with the likes of Rachel Maddow and Erin Burnett and George Stephanopoulos I can’t listen to them day after day whining about the same old crap. Yeah, I get it, Trump is insane and congress is a circus.
Local TV news is nothing more than a crime report. It should go without saying nobody should watch it. I mean, you can get your sports and weather elsewhere whenever you want. I have no interest in car wrecks and shootings at Circle K.
I skim online news sites and only a handful. The Guardian. The New York Times. Washington Post (Bezos be damned). And I turned off notifications. The concept of urgent news has somehow shifted over the years to include anything the outlet wants to say they sent out first whether it’s truly urgent or not.
I subscribe to eNewsletters and daily headline services that feature the specific niches in which I am interested. That means sports, entertainment, climate, etc. I want the daily headlines from ESPN. I do not want the daily headlines from CNN.
I have found a few good services that summarize the important stories of the day in an easy-to-read detailed fashion without editorializing. I get a daily feed from Axios Phoenix and Morning Brew. These kinds of services give you just what you need and not much more — perfect.
I set Google Alerts for things I care about and get a once daily summary. I have alerts for Arsenal (my favorite soccer team), Casey Newton (tech news), Naomi Klein (climate writer), A.J. Cassavell (Padres beat writer) and Jewish Family & Children’s Service (my employer) for example. I let Google do the filtering for me and it is free.
I have started unsubscribing from darn near everything that comes into my email in-box unless it’s important to me. Why do we let companies spam us with sales pitches because we bought a pair of pants there once. This may be a bit OCD, but the cleaner my email in-box the less stress I feel. Plus, my interests have changed over the years so why keep getting e-blasts from organizations I don’t care about anymore?
I have separate folders in my web browser for news sites and sites I call “Reading Pleasure.” More often than not we surf to what’s right in front of us, so I categorize so when I do spend time surfing it’s not totally random. So for example, the news folder includes The Guardian, AZ Central, CNN, etc. But the Reading Pleasure folder includes Esquire, Rolling Stone, the New York Times books section, Arts & Letters Daily, and The Verge.
On my phone and tablet, I use apps like Artifact (its algorithm figures out what you are interested in and feeds you that) and Google News which enables you to “follow” to various outlets like National Geographic, Wired, Consequence (music), Lifehacker, and other outlets and topics. I have tried RSS feeds and readers numerous times, but this technology seems to be fading out.
I subscribe to writers I like on services like Medium and Substack. So far I have yet to pay for a writer’s posts, but I could honestly see myself doing so for someone I really like such as Naomi Klein or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I’m not sure the world is ready for us readers to pay additional fees for every writer we like, but if you used to subscribe to a bunch of newspapers and magazines what’s $5 a month to get the inside scoop on a subject you love from a writer you respect. Medium, at least, is a flat monthly fee or all paid content.
Lastly, while I am late to the game, I am using YouTube more. With YouTube you can watch videos that interest you on pretty much every topic you can imagine. It’s free, but many top YouTubers are asking folks to chip in for premium content using Patreon or something similar. That seems fair, and if I find myself watching a content provider I can’t seem to live without I’ll consider pitching in a few bucks. One thing I have really been enjoying with YouTube is the ability to really take a deep dive on topics you love. I watched a 20 part series on the history of the Jewish people from a secular humanist rabbi. I dig this YouTuber Geography by Geoff, I watch PBS Terra videos about climate, and I subscribe to several Arsenal shows. The other day I watched a 20 minute discussion about Pink Floyd’s The Wall from a guy who calls his channel Professor of Rock.
We all need to be informed and entertained. But we don’t have to let ourselves be force fed what corporate news overlords want us to watch or read. We have a choice. I for one have felt less anxiety about the world around me by making good choices about what I ingest.