Transitioning from news avoidance

Posted on September 29, 2011 by

I used to take a daily dose of news from CBC Radio–a small, thoughtful and sanely-chosen selection of what was going on in B.C., Canada, and the big wide world, handily delivered as I was making dinner. After 9/11, I stopped listening to those broadcasts, and for the decade that followed my exposure to current events was spotty. Mostly, I’d pass headlines on the street and thus know the bare minimum about what The Vancouver Sun thought was worthy of the top fold. On the rare occasions when something was happening and I wanted to know more, I’d surf up the details on the Internet. They were always there waiting.

I stopped with even the CBC broadcasts because the world was in a terrible space, at that time, and the news kept dragging me back into the mire of distress. Regular exposure to brutality, pollution, war and especially the rage-inducing stupidity of politicians was eating at my peace of mind.

I find myself having to explain and justify this, often.

“I’m a news avoider,” I learned, isn’t a statement many people hear–and it’s one they’re fundamentally inclined to disbelieve. It’s a bit like explaining to a little kid that it’s possible to live without a car. (Or without a TV, I’m told, though I haven’t been in that position.) So for the past decade, I’ve ended up telling someone, “No, really, I don’t watch the news or read the papers,” on the order of twice a month, minimum. In most cases, I have this conversation three times with any given individual before they actually take it on.

There was always a little nagging sense, in the back of my mind, that I was skating on an obligation of citizenship by ignoring the world as much as I possibly could. But, I’d remind myself, I don’t actually believe the newspapers or the TV folks do a terrific job of keeping one up-to-date anyway. Most of what they offer on a daily basis is partial narratives about ongoing stories. The idea seems to be to offer just enough new stuff to make you want to read more tomorrow… and the lack of depth drives me crazy.

(And that doesn’t even get into the question of accuracy–I know many of you question whether mainstream media can be trusted to deliver reliable facts. Or the opinion, held by some, that the point of the news is to not make us informed so much as to make us afraid.)

Anyway. I prefer the kind of coverage that comes from feature articles and long-form documentaries. So instead of breaking news, I read things like The Best American Science and Nature Writing (this year’s guest editor is Mary Roach, folks! I know–OMG, right? Pre-order now!) Snuffy sends me copies of Texas Monthly so I can read Pam Coloff’s excellent articles about justice, and miscarriages thereof.

Social media has pulled me back into the news world, a bit. It started with Livejournal: occasionally my friends would post a link tantalizing enough to follow. And now the headlines stream by, along with the treasure and flotsam in my Twitter feed, and I cherry pick the stuff that interests me and run a minimal risk of hearing that our prime minister’s said something that makes my head explode. I follow CBC News and Peter Mansbridge and Mashable. But I’m still a feature reader at heart, and so mostly I have gotten entirely sucked into browsing–no surprise–the articles available at Longreads. That’s where the meaty stuff seems to be, and I heartily recommend it to you all.

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