Get News. Not Too Quickly. Avoid Social.

 

In this New York Times article, Farhad Manjoo reports on his decision to turn off digital news notifications, disconnect from Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, and get his news solely from the print editions of three newspapers. “Basically, I was trying to slow-jam the news,” he says. “It has been life changing. Turning off the buzzing breaking-news machine I carry in my pocket was like unshackling myself from a monster who had me on speed dial, always ready to break into my day with half-baked bulletins.”

Manjoo’s takeaways from this two-month experiment (which he captured in a Michael Pollan-inspired mantra in the headline above) have direct implications for teaching current events and civics and helping young adolescents improve their online lives:

• Depending on newspapers means reading about major news events as much as a day after they break, but Manjoo says this ends up being less time-consuming for him than following breathless, blow-by-blow accounts throughout the day.

• He believes the news he’s been reading in print newspapers has been much more accurate. With the recent Florida school shootings, for example, Manjoo was spared numerous inaccurate and deliberately false accounts that spread like wildfire as events unfolded. “Real life is slow,” he says; “it takes professionals time to figure out what happened, and how it fits into context.”

• Print news presents the facts first, then opinion. Online, the sequence is reversed. “On social networks,” says Manjoo, “every news story comes to you predigested. People don’t just post stories – they post their takes on stories, often quoting key parts of a story to underscore how it proves them right, so readers are never required to delve into the story to come up with their own view… It is exactly our fealty to the crowd – to what other people are saying about the news, rather than the news itself – that makes us susceptible to misinformation.”

• Getting news online exacerbates the tendency to “burrow into echo chambers,” he says, “softening up society for propaganda.” We hear what we want to hear, see what we want to see. The government and Facebook won’t be able to fix this, especially given how easy it is to spread false information, even in audio and video formats.

• Social media are the most pernicious, Manjoo believes: “The built-in incentives on Twitter and Facebook reward speed over depth, hot takes over facts, and seasoned propagandists over well-meaning analyzers of the news… Just about every problem we battle in understanding the news today – and every one we will battle tomorrow – is exacerbated by plugging into the social-media herd.”

• Manjoo says that since he disconnected, he’s felt less anxious and less addicted to the news, as if time has slowed down, and yet he’s more fully and widely informed. “Sure, there’s still a lot of news,” he says, “but when you read it once a day, the world feels contained and comprehensible rather than a blur of headlines lost on a phone’s lock screen.”

• Perhaps most important, he’s found more time to read books and poetry and become a more attentive husband and father.

To get all these benefits, Manjoo acknowledges, you don’t need to pay for print newspapers, which are expensive. There are thoughtful online news sources, such as morning newsletters like those from Axios or daily news podcasts. “What’s important,” he concludes, “is choosing a medium that highlights deep stories over quickly breaking news.” And, of course, turning off online notifications and not getting news from social media: “They distract and feed into a constant sense of fragmentary paranoia about the world. They are also unnecessary. If something really big happens, you will find out.”

 

“Yesterday’s News Today: Deep, Informed, Accurate, and Inky” by Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times, March 8, 2018, no e-link available; Manjoo can be reached at farhad.manjoo@nytimes.com.

 

Marshall Memo 727 March 12, 2018