Why We Stopped Reporting the News - and why you should probably stop reading it
The COVID-19 pandemic was difficult for a lot of businesses, and mine wasn’t immune. I saw revenue drop by 50% year-on-year at my consultancy, with numerous engagements either being postponed or cancelled altogether.
But as is always the case when you face difficulty, you are in control of how you choose to respond (don’t worry...this isn’t going to be one of those motivational rants). And in my team’s case, we leaned on skills we’d honed over the previous five years. These skills included content creation - articles, podcasts, ebooks, emails, digital marketing, and ways of work - 80/20 thinking, crowdsourcing, automation and outsourcing of repeatable procedures.
All of this combined to give birth to NoFilter Media - a media outlet and podcast network that focuses on myriad topics, and shies away from censorship or toeing specific narrative lines.
Of course, we were diving in to a somewhat saturated market, but with one advantage - we could get significantly more done with significantly less resources than a typical media outlet, which also gives us an advantage when it comes to advertising and monetization.
Despite this advantage though, one of the first rules of media is to create content - lots of it. And the easiest way to do that is to report the news. The news offers us an endless supply of story ideas, and especially engaging ones when it comes to emotive topics like politics and the coronavirus.
Downsides of the News
I’m someone who had always shied away from consuming daily news. First, because it keeps you in a cycle of short-term thinking.
Second, it is inherently negative and can leave the consumer with a negative view of the world, which can have all sorts of deleterious downstream effects.
As Nassim Taleb put it, “Newspapers aren’t going to tell you ‘we had 280 deaths on the roads today in America’ - they’re going to tell you about the plane crash killing 14 people. So, you have misrepresentation of the math of risks. They are driven by the sensational. And the statistical and the sensational are not the same in our modern world”.
Third, consuming the news steals time and mental real estate away from deep work and creativity, learning about more important and valuable ideas, and having fun.
Yet here I was - reading the breaking news each day, tracking new developments, writing, reviewing and editing news stories. I found my mental real estate increasingly being filled up with stories about Trump, the latest victim of cancel culture, and inevitably, Colin Kaepernick.
I felt myself becoming more consumed by the news cycle, gravitating towards online tribes, and spending a little more time on Twitter than I had ever done before.
I was left with less mental real estate and mental capacity to read about ideas, and pick up a book come the end of the day. I was becoming more reactive, and a lot less proactive. And I was losing control - essentially a bale of tumbleweed being blown around, my attention was dictated by the news stories of the day. I ran from one news story to the next, and found myself becoming the antithesis of what I wrote about in my book, Time Rich, starting my workday by reviewing the news, and running from one news story to the next in a state of perpetual fomo!
I went from writing long-form pieces and analysis of the ideas of Richard P Feynman, to writing sensationalist news headlines such as '50 Cent is No Longer Black', in order to secure cheap eyeballs, and with it, dollars.
Just Another Media Site
NoFilter was becoming a me too news outlet (not that me too). When I founded the outlet, I had visions of credible journalism, thought-provoking unfiltered content, and above all, an entertaining and balanced alternative to the outrage culture, and click-baity headlines we find most independent and mainstream outlets partaking in today, victims of their bloated business models.
So, after about three months - and some introspection and deliberation, I killed the news - at least on NoFilter.
Sure, it came at an immediate hit to our traffic, but that’s not the kind of traffic we really want anyway. We want people who are interested in reading long-form pieces about important topics - not short outrage pieces designed to harden them to a pre-existing belief system and prop up their ego.
We’ve gone on to focus almost exclusively on podcast creation across myriad topics, and thought pieces (including news analysis on topics that actually matter and can have long-term implications on culture and society).
We’re still in the early stages of building out our network, but it has been nothing but forward momentum so far, and now that we’ve deviated away from reporting the news, I also find myself thinking deeply about ideas again, and with a more positive and proactive disposition towards the world around me. I’m also back to spending no more than an hour on Twitter each week, and needless to say, it feels great.
If you find yourself stuck in the short-term news cycle, perhaps it’s time to do as Mark Twain urged, and stop to reflect.