One of the most unbelievable things in the 21st century is that there was a period in time when the media actually seemed to care about its viewers. The reporting was comparatively more accurate and unafraid to challenge or question powerful people.
Fast forward to today, and the situation in the news cycle is far different. Because of the speed at which reporting is done today, the same amount of effort isn't put into assessments, background checks or verification. Now the media doesn't seem to be afraid of anything, let alone take responsibility. Instead of holding powerful people accountable, our media is actually funded by them and has become an outlet for their agenda and talking points. The news we view is no longer news, it's often opinion or analysis. Most things are presented with covert bias or slant aimed at influencing your opinion.
Perhaps the worst thing to have occurred in the media landscape is the intense vitriol that's polarized the nation. The news we consume has made people turn on each other. With all the bias, distortion and propaganda, it can be extremely difficult to retain your sanity and keep your composure intact while watching/reading the news. Here's how you can do it.
Understand the reality.
The first step is to understand the reality of the agenda behind today's news cycle and mainstream media. In a world full of competition and instant gratification, the media has to devise ways of catching your attention, riling up your emotions and/or telling you what you want to hear. This is largely how they make money.
They’ll try to get you to click or watch using multiple means, such as subversion, mystery, intentional structuring and personalization. Understanding these tactics and becoming aware of them will neutralize your instinctive emotional responses to the news and over time, may even stop you from clicking on things that are designed to shock you or make you angry.
Choose your news sources well.
Getting a variety of perspectives across the political spectrum will make it easier to avoid being negatively emotionally impacted by partisan media designed to rile you up, scare you and shock you. Take a few minutes to research outlets and always compare headlines across the spectrum using AllSides.
Don't forget to look up the media outlet’s political leanings and financial ownership information. Take care to see which outlets are funded by wealthy billionaires or corporate conglomerates — they may be selling an agenda.
Set appropriate boundaries.
No news, however seemingly urgent or dangerous, should consume your life. Keep in mind that most headlines are purposely framed to produce a negative emotional reaction in you and hook you.
A lot of news is less relevant to our lives than we think. Ask yourself, will this piece of news impact my life today? If not, take a deep breath. Much of the information the news media gives us is related to events outside of our control. Stepping back and focusing on our immediate surroundings — friends, family, local community — can help us regain composure.
See through bias.
It's impossible to avoid media bias altogether. Unbiased news doesn’t exist. However, it does help to identify when outlets are using sound journalistic practices and when they're being overtly biased. Get familiar with the common Types of Media Bias so you can avoid being manipulated.
Even the most reliable outlets show bias. And news shared on social media should often be taken with a grain of salt, since it's a breeding ground for sensational misinformation and conspiracy theories. Ask yourself questions and take the time to do research. Even though it's difficult initially, with some practice, seeing through becomes much easier, which reduces frustration.
Tune out sometimes.
Contrary to what you've been told, there's no absolute need or hurry to read each headline or care about everything. You'll only make yourself ill by doing that. Designate a certain time for catching up with the news and then tune out. Once that time is over, practice a relaxation technique and turn off your notifications.
If possible, consider avoiding the news entirely on holidays and weekends. Instead, spend time relaxing with loved ones. You can also change what content your social media algorithms feed you by searching for and clicking on lighthearted, happy content instead of politics to give you a break from the news. This will strengthen your resolve to handle your weekday news consumption.
Some words can elicit an immediate emotional reaction that pulls us into a negative mental state. We become worked up by the news, then watch more news to find a resolution. For example, some loaded terms that cause us to react emotionally are frequently used by media outlets: “BREAKING NEWS,” “shocking admission,” “stunning revelation,” “tensions heightened” are some examples.
Take a minute to think about what words or phrases elicit an immediate emotional reaction in you. Examining those feelings and becoming aware of them can help you to desensitize yourself to the emotional reaction when you come across them.
The news cycle plays a serious role in frying our brains and increasing our heart rate. But now you have a better idea of how to retain your sanity and help others do the same. At the end of the day, what matters most is what's real and human. The innate worth of your real, day-to-day life is no match for a hyperpartisan, inflated media incident.
Avanti Giridharan is a freelance writer. She seeks to empower people through logic and compassion in her writing. When she's not writing, she can be found reading or playing music. She has a Center bias.
This piece was reviewed and edited by Julie Mastrine, AllSides Director of Marketing. She has a Lean Right bias.