My news consumption changed dramatically in September 2001.
My wife, Michele, was pregnant with our first child on Sept. 11. As we were inundated with heartbreaking stories of unimaginable loss, we struggled to digest the information overload, raw videos and graphic photos. Just six days later, we welcomed our first daughter, Morgan.
By late September 2001, we began to limit our news consumption, which was hard for me as a trained journalist. I’ve always loved the news, especially stories behind the story and how different outlets cover breaking news. It’s why as a teenager I would read the entire front page of The Richmond News Leader before I delivered the afternoon paper. My parents didn’t have any news filters on me, but things were a lot different in the 1980s.
As a new parent in 2001, I knew I needed to protect my children and my own sanity just a little more, so after Morgan’s birth, we needed to step back from the chaos of the cable news cycle and focus on our family.
Information overload = a fragmented brain
By mid-2004, we upgraded our coaxial connection to the world of the high-speed Internet modem. It was empowering because it led to the birth of Rhudy & Co., our strategic communications firm. Yet, the Internet’s constant flow of information started to mess with our brains.
Yet, the Internet’s constant flow of information started to mess with our brains.
This trend of fragmentation continued in late 2008, when I joined Facebook, and in early 2009, when I invited Twitter into my personal and work life. Since then, it has been a constant hum of posts, tweets, photos, videos and notifications.
The power of eyewitness media
In 2016, my information diet at times feels like an all-consuming fatty buffet. There’s more than you want to consume: the random violence, hate crimes, destructive rhetoric, political bullying, natural disasters and police brutality. It’s exhausting. It’s constant. For some, it’s truly debilitating, and infomania is all too real.
The challenge is similar to what we faced in late 2001 but it has intensified due to technology. How do we maintain our connection to the world without feeling beaten down by the negative news?
Eyewitness user-generated content media also now floods my Facebook feed.
Eyewitness user-generated content media also now floods my Facebook feed. The juxtaposition of seeing my fraternity brother’s cute twin toddlers alongside the Facebook Live video of mass causalities in Nice, France, is unsettling and hard to shake.
The eternal optimistic in me seeks the good stuff in my news buffet. Like fruits and vegetables, those content bites make me feel better and healthier while restoring my faith in humanity. That includes stories of neighbors helping neighbors, people overcoming adversity or helpful tips to make life a little easier.
Tips for coping and managing your news diet
On Tuesday, I heard an expert talking about just this challenge. In an NPR segment titled, “Managing Your News Intake In The Age Of Endless Phone Notifications.” It made me think.
In the report, Claire Wardle, research director at the distinguished Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, shared tips to help balance our news diet. Wardle validated and described what I’ve been feeling in recent years.
Wardle is the co-founder of Eyewitness Media Hub, which studies the legal, ethical and logistical aspects of user-generated or eyewitness media.
Here are some of Wardle’s tips and few of my own for taking charge of your news:
- Cut the feed: Turn off autoplay in your social media feeds so you don't see a graphic video that you didn't expect to see.
- Take charge of your news consumption: Be prepared to watch or listen to the news. Limit your news consumption to a set period of time such as 30 minutes in the evening. Use your DVR to focus on the stories that matter to you.
- Control the uncontrollable: Unfollow news outlets in your social media feeds and unsubscribe from alerts from news outlets.
News is raw. It’s disturbing. We can’t turn a blind eye to the horrors in our world, but we can — as individuals, parents and grandparents — control how we access and consume news.
Don’t be afraid to take charge of your news diet.
Jonathan Rhudy studied journalism at James Madison University. Most nights he watches highlights of NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt with his three daughters. They spend about 15 minutes watching and talking about some of the day's good news events to help them better understand the big world around them.