(Trying) to Stay Sane & Informed: The Endless News Cycle and the 2020 Election
November 12, 2019
I recently attended an event featuring former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest who served in the Obama Administration. He’s now SVP and chief communications officer for United Airlines – right from one hot seat to another.
At the event, Earnest offered tips on what to look out for in the upcoming presidential election and shared amusing anecdotes from his time as White House Press Secretary. He then turned his attention to the audience for a Q&A.
The burning question on my mind, and on other eager audience members: in today’s media environment (amidst misinformation, “fake news,” and the incessant churn) how does Earnest stay informed and sane?
Earnest paused, and then responded that he takes the Metra in to work and can sift through the day’s news from a selection of key sources – he mentioned POLITICO. He then gets into the office and can shift his focus to his responsibilities at United. In other words, he can compartmentalize.
That’s it? Isn’t there a secret hack to help us handle the mountain of information that is available at our fingertips at every moment?
Now, a week or so later I’m still thinking about his answer.
Most people who work in the public relations and public affairs industry have a voracious appetite for news. I’m in that camp. I make a living navigating the news cycle, studying the media landscape to spot trends and opportunities to bring my clients into the conversation. But I’ll be honest, some days it’s overwhelming. And, research suggests I’m not alone in this feeling. We’re a year out from the 2020 presidential elections and Americans are already feeling stressed.
We’re living in an era of media disruption. Many local news outlets are struggling, and the media landscape is fractured. Outlets, some with better intentions than others, are vying for our attention on every platform and sorting through everything in this new media environment is becoming increasingly complicated.
So, I went looking for the data — the studies and statistics that uncover how to stay informed and sane in a media world where stories travel 1,000 miles a minute (thanks, Twitter).
During my own investigation, I came across a New York Times reporter, Katherine Rosman, on a similar quest and with a unique outlook on this very conundrum. Rosman advocates for a more thoughtful consumption of news.
To me, this means that exercising personal choice over how and where you get your news is one of the most important factors. In order to beat the urge to just refresh your Twitter feed or turn to your favorite cable TV news show, you need to diversify your choices. Be active in your consumption of news – it is not a passive process.
We take great care to choose what we put into our bodies, why shouldn’t we take the same care with what we feed our minds? In that same school of thought, we’re well practiced on how to control industrial pollution so shouldn’t we take a similar approach to digital pollution?
Another practice Rosman subscribes to is hosting “news clubs” and other social events to foster meaningful (and civil) discussion of current events. This helps us digest what we are consuming and gain valuable different perspectives. Face-to-face discussions can force some semblance of civility that is often lost online.
We’re a year out from the 2020 election, so here’s how I’m going to stay sane and informed:
- Knowledge is power. Avoiding news isn’t an option. Keep reading, discovering and relishing in our ability to reinvent how we tell stories, how we present information.
- Acknowledge that stories evolve, don’t trust the first source you read. In case you missed it, check out our guide to election polls.
- Get perspective. Talk to your colleagues, your family, your friends and community members. Don’t lose sight of the importance of productive conversation and listening to both sides of any story.
- Find what balance means for you, but don’t allow yourself to be siloed, reading only your preferred sources. Balance can be achieved by taking more control over how and where you get your news. (That means pruning both your email subscriptions and who you follow on social media).
- When finding that balance seems impossible, take a break. We’ve all read about the dangers of burnout. You can come back to the news cycle when you find perspective and especially before important moments like casting a vote.
- In the end, trust that there are passionate, driven and practiced reporters committed to seeking out the truth and helping us all make sense of the world around us.
Maybe Earnest did have the answer I was looking for after all.
November 12, 2019