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The power of ignoring mainstream news (joel.is)
111 points by endtwist on Sept 15, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 105 comments

I found that when I let mainstream news go and tried to stay informed via social media, blogs, and Reddit, I felt informed.

Then I got a Kindle and tried a mainstream newspaper subscription.

I quickly noticed that the newspaper often disagreed with what I'd "learn" from Reddit and blogs, and upon further investigation the newspaper was almost always correct. Apparently the Reddit circle jerk is not as good at news as professional journalists.

Eh, as much as I want to agree with you (and I do, reddit is a cesspool at times) you still can't argue with this: http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch/#/trapwire/since1... and this: http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch/#/flame

Trapwire: funded by rich people who don't want to get noticed Flame: software showing off the usa's capability for cryptovirology and basically saying our most public stuff beats your best secret shit

You can't argue with that because that isn't an argument.

Most companies are funded by rich people.

Who knows whether Trapwire "wants to get noticed"? They sell to giant organizations, not to the public.

Most of what you know about Trapwire probably comes via Stratfor thirdhand via Wikileaks by way of Reddit. Think about that again: your information started at Stratfor. It was then spun by Wikileaks. And then it was analyzed by Reddit. And you trust it more than the NYT.

And all the while, Trapwire had a web page describing all this stuff.

One reason why the NYT and WaPo and WSJ and Al Jazeera are so much better than Reddit at conveying the news is that they have something to lose when they get the story wrong. All of them trade on reputations that took decades to build. You can literally feel this in action as you race to start typing about how the NYT got Iraq wrong. Notice how you can't say that about any story on Reddit, because it's a howling mob of random people?

(FWIW: There are great comments on Reddit; their highs are higher than HN's highs, by a lot.)

There is a certain superior feeling people get from getting their news from a non mainstream source. It's cool to rebel against authority, easy to call people who believe established news outlets ignorant "sheep", and it makes one feel as if they're part of an exclusive club for real "truth seekers". This feeling lets people believe some of the nonsense that comes out of these sources. There's something about a small, underground news source that makes people believe whatever comes out of it without vetting whereas the same story out of the NYT would make the same people question it.

Everyone wants to root for the underdog and everyone wants to belong. Non-mainstream sources of news give people an outlet for that which is why they get a pass from "truth seekers" who like to claim they have high standards for what they consume.

You have a very healthy attitude about news consumption. It's very reasonable and you made a great point. I'm not saying these alternative sources of news don't ever get it right. It's not about that. The important thing is not the source of the news so much as your ability to detect bullshit. Put another way, the important thing is being a smart consumer of news. Making the kinds of connections you make in your comment and asking those types of questions you ask are what is important.

If only we could all sharpen our critical thinking skills not only would we be better news consumers but all news organizations large and small, mainstream or not, would be forced to raise the bar on their reporting and journalism as a profession.


You make fair points, but what I'm trying to say is that I don't trust NYT because of stuff like this: http://www.salon.com/2010/10/24/assange_2/

Out of all those organizations you listed, the only one I trust atm is Washing Post for reporting on the USA gov because they published this: http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/

I agree, reddit usually has stupid shit second-hand, is run by a publishing corporation, and has numerous terrible mods, but at least alternative opinions have a chance of influencing the claim of an article.

You don't trust the New York Times because Glenn Greenwald wrote a piece for Salon calling them Nixonian?

That piece is too inflammatory for me to take seriously. The New York Times wrote a hit piece on someone? A scurrilous hit piece filled with every possible rumor? Really? Every one of them, you say?

When you write something like that, you'd better be able to back it up with something more than moral support from Daniel Ellsberg.

You can't say you're a serious consumer of the news if you select the publications you trust based on whether they support your pet causes.

There is bad mainstream news as well as online. But i would agree that near it's peak professional journalism (eg the economist, democracy now, new scientist) is generally better. But are these, or increasingly any serious newspapers 'mainstream'? US TV news is almost universally tripe.


1. Go to reddit.com/r/science

2. Pick an article

3. Go to comments to find out why the outlandish claim is wrong

Similarly politics, news; although a lot of that is selection.

I recently had the opposite revelation: Most social sites are too much of a distraction, feeding us with pointless weakly-written opinions and things that have zero effect in my life. Their signal to noise ratio is definitely lower, and is not compensated by the higher amount of info they pile up.

Humans are by nature curious about what's happening, and no matter how much one bulks up at the local gym, they are probably not quenching their thirst in that way.

> I recently had the opposite revelation: Most social sites are too much of a distraction, feeding us with pointless weakly-written opinions and things that have zero effect in my life.

I don't think TFA is suggesting that you replace mainstream news with social news - just that you should cut mainstream news out of your information diet.

> Humans are by nature curious about what's happening, and no matter how much one bulks up at the local gym, they are probably not quenching their thirst in that way.

Humans are "by nature" a lot of things, many of which we've come to fight quite successfully. There's no reason why this would be any different.

You're presenting a false dichotomy: Joel never said "switch to social sites"; in fact, he suggested we all go out and do things.

If you feel like you need to "quench your thirst" for current news, maybe traditional outlets work better for you than social media. Personally, I agree with Joel; most of us in the modern world are gluttons for information, and consume more than we even want, let alone what we need.

Yes, I realize the irony of posting this to a social news site.

And you're posting this to a social site :)

Don't get me wrong, HN is my go-to source for interesting stuff to read. But it turns out the best ones link to "mainstream news sites".

One of the problem that the OP blog points out is that mainstream news dish out bad news that encourage an exaggerated and wraped fearful worldview. For example, when a mass murder incident happens, people talk a lot about gun violence and how it's gripping the country and we should do something about it. Of course, they forgot that 40K people die in car accidents, 600K more die of heart disease and about 500K more die of cancer each year. A mass murderer is essentially an amateur when they are compared to inanimate or impersonal killers like cells going out of control or high blood pressure.

People aren't going to stop talking about these incidents and they aren't going to stop being terribly uninformed with just this blog post. What they need is some sort of media campaign to inform them of the real risk of dying and what they really need to fear.

This is what I called "fear inoculation", a term I coined at http://kibabase.com/articles/notes-and-thoughts#fear-inocula...

In essence, fear inoculation is basically protection against memes that promote irrational fear of certain things like terrorist incidents and airplane crash.

You are aware that gun deaths are on course to exceed auto deaths this year? While the gov. has spent billions over decades to prevent auto deaths, cancer deaths, etc., effectively $0 have been spent to study and prevent gun deaths; how is it irrational to be concerned about that?

Gun death looks like a proximate cause. Guns are tools for suicide, or for killing people who you don't like. If you want to reduce gun related death, you should look into suicide research and criminology/sociology research. You could ban guns, but it's likely that people will kill each other with something else. There's no shortage of methods on way to kill somebody.

Anyway, do you have a citation? I have mine, which is http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm

This is actually very surprising to me. Thanks for the info.

'ignorance is bliss'.

go ahead, tune out the news. please stop voting though, democracy relies on the informed voter. and good luck in the capitalist economy, that one relies on information as well.

as this is hn, let's focus on the founder's perspective. if you have no clue about what's going on in the world, how can you compete within it? if you have no clue about your target group's current situation? pick anything, like healthcare - great opportunities, but good luck not staying informed.

back to the general reason why this terrible advice: being ignorant makes you a terrible citizen. it is already bad in the US, if you're only watching tv news you're already clueless about the world. whenever i am in the us i am amazed about the lack of true world news - CNN International is a very different channel than CNN.

as a voter it is your frickin responsibility to stay informed. your worldview baffles me.

Baffled because you think that "the news" == keeping informed. The two have little to do with each other. If you want to learn something, turn off the idiot box and pick up a book.

Books, by and large, are useless in keeping up on current events. The news, despite all it's faults, is current - which is what's meant by "informed" in this context.

That's not to say that you shouldn't read books nor that the news is the best way to stay informed, but saying that reading books is the best way to stay on top of current issues is provably wrong.

No, keeping "informed" is not about knowing what happened in the last hour, or a sting of unrelated events over five years.

It is about the larger movements that shape humanity. These aren't discussed in any meaningful way on the TV news except at the fringe. Books, and long-form magazines are accessible, concentrated stores of knowledge, and you won't have to waste time on daily gossip, which is useless.

"democracy relies on the informed voter" yeah, get informed by mainstream media - totally does wonders to democracy. did work hefty fine in itally where the former head of state owned a large slice of tv/newspaper. by coincidence he was voted on and on and on. same for some african countries. democracy export country no1 - USA - has just exchanged the single person who controls the media with a network of controllers. so dumb voters will not notice that they are manipulated. "they said it twice on different tv channels, so it must be true". don't know if the US got that from the Germans or the other way around cause they got the same system. And even that system could be applied to HN, too. Just have 10 friends submit, upvote and comment on the latest and greatest technology/company. Readers that just get themselves informed through HN must think that gazillions of people now love and use this technology. Long story short: Do not just consume news. Always ask why you should believe what you just read and who will benefit from you believing that. Now knowing that, ask yourself: What is your benefit from that news again?

He stopped reading "mainstream news," not all news. Whether you solely read newspapers or Hacker News, you're getting an insignificant and unrepresentative sample of "what's going on in the world." Personally, I think that building one's own sampling technique (for example, by reading a variety of blogs or sites like this) can deliver a much more accurate picture of the world than your average newspaper.

Here is the kernel of good advice in this post: consuming news can be addicting, can create a negative worldview, and might not provide the informational content you think it may.

However, the author then makes a series of suggestions for all the things you should be doing with your time, such as: (a) playing videogames; (b) mentoring other startup founders; (c) building your own startup; (d) writing on your blog; (e) going to the gym.

All of these suggestions for what you should be doing with your time are... surprise, surprise... things that the author does with his time, instead of reading the news.

The reflection I got out of this post was perhaps the opposite of intended: I need to stop reading HN!

This makes me wonder: which is more valuable? writing blog posts or reading actual news?

Depends on the goal. The answer is neither and both.

I understand a healthy media diet but as an able/concerned/voting citizen, I cannot justify abstaining from news* entirely.

*News being defined as important information about important events. (Not TMZ, GMA, opinion columns/shows, etc.)

Do you think news is the best channel to make an informed voting choice? It could be argued either way, but it's certainly not clear.

In Switzerland, the best source of info is usually the documentation that comes with the voting papers. News is just noise and opinion.

We have decent documentation provided here, too (at least in CO). I'm unsure if it's ample enough to make a completely informed decision.

Some issues demand more cultural/social context, "the full story" as it were. I think this context is probably best created by discourse and debate, but can also be augmented with news.

Of course, this leads to another media/news issue in the Internet Age: consumption bias -- only reading/watching media you agree with.

I try to maintain moderation and balance.

who said it was "best"? surely a variety of sources would be better than any one. and excluding news from those seems like a significant omission; particularly when the justification seems to be "bad news is nasty and makes me feel bad" (the other argument seems to be that you can do better things with your time, but i would have thought 15min scanning the BBC, say, while having your breakfast would be a pretty good way to manage time).

You still hear about important events. I haven't bought a newspaper in years, but I can keep up with my family in political discussions.

If something is important, people mention it.

Until everyone stops consuming news.

Until humans lose their human nature, you mean? The masses have always been pretty content with their panis et circensis, and I don't see everyone enlightened with a drive to fulfill their self-assigned purpose on Earth through doing work they truly love anytime in the foreseeable future. God, what would the big corporations do then?

Which doesn't happen.

I agree with this, because it's something I've done for a while, but for different reasons (primarily to do with mental health).

But as an addendum to that it's also important to know and accept that, as a result, you are more ignorant. This isn't a bad thing, for as long as you know that you're willingly less informed. As stated, this is the opportunity cost for pursuing things more important to you.

As an aside, I'd like to recommend Flat Earth News[0] to anyone who wants a journalist's insight into how the news isn't always truthful.

As another one, I saw a comment saying Americans are how they are because they don't watch the news. I disagree. Watching the news does not make you culturally sensitive.

[0] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Flat-Earth-News-Award-winning-Distor...

Did you stop absorbing news altogether or you just stopped looking at mainstream news? What is your definition of mainstream news?

I think it is reasonable to be an observer of your local news - the news which affects your immediate environment - otherwise rest of the long distance news is irrelevant so I am in agreement.

My personal, ad-hoc strategy for keeping up with news (aside from HN):

* Glance Newspaper headlines on the metro or at newsstands.

* Every quarter or so, pick up a copies of The Economist and New Scientist.

* Hit wikipedia for an intro to issues/subjects that I find interesting.

* Track down books/papers on anything that I want to delve deeper into.

I'll just share my news diet and what I think of each of them. I take all news with a grain of salt and try to mix it up. I think it's a mistake to just give up news altogether though.

HN: interesting technical pieces occasionally and good coverage of tech industry but is often an echo chamber (granted one I agree with) and features a lot of fluff pieces written by bloggers lacking original thought and research skills

WSJ: good coverage of business but features a world-view that's almost completely obsessed with money and right-wing ideology, yet the pieces are still thoughtful and original

NYTimes: I occasionally read to find out about world events since they have great breadth and coverage

Local papers: generally a crap-hole of AP content and crime reports but is useful for sports and city council/schools coverage

Slashdot: for teh lulz. but these people share my outrage at government intrusion in our lives so I like reading up

Facebook: I have good friends who link to good stories in publications I would otherwise never read

NPR/public radio: insightful and original story ideas, but they're very much into intellectual naval gazing

AM conservative radio: they're entertaining, and I enjoy hearing their take on recent events which often have a lot of valid points. at least they wear their bias on their sleeves even if it gets in the way of legitimate reporting/analysis

Local TV news: completely pointless and depressing recap of local crime and fluff pieces. useful in the event of local severe weather. decent sports interviews but mostly resorts to flimsy soundbites

Daily Show: you can always count on Jon to call people out on their BS and point out absurdities

Google News: extremely useful for getting up to speed on what's happening but is often trapped in a monotonous cycle of iPhone news, 'radical' health discoveries which are overblown, violence in foreign countries, and gaffe-centric political reporting

Twitter: I follow over a 1000 people so it's like sifting through a pile of periodicals in the bathroom which sometimes turns up some good finds but is mostly just perfume ads

This is terrible advice and not something I think people should be recommending to others. I love Joel's posts enough to subscribe to the rss feed (which I have never done for any site ever) but this post is something I strongly disagree with for many good reasons.

The idea he puts forth is incredibly naive and has not been taken to its natural conclusion. He talks about the negative side of keeping up with the news while ignoring the many positives.

He puts forth a simple solution to a complex problem. The solution he comes up with is naive and extreme. The problem seems to be that news being biased and overwhelmingly negative puts a damper on your mood. It can also harm productivity when becoming too engrossed in it and when the news stirs up strong emotions. His point is valid but his solution is extreme.

I think it's this kind of attitude that is making Americans stupid when it comes to civics. People in this country (the US) have no clue what's going on in the world or domestically because they either don't follow the news at all or because all they can process at any given moment is some asinine sound bite that barely comes close to touching on the substance of an issue.

Following news isn't harming anyone's mental well being. Not following the news is what causes harm. We pay a price for ignorance and the bill is about due. Following the news keeps you informed, it expands your world beyond the narrow little bubble most people live in, and it makes you an informed citizen which then gives you the tools to make smart decisions and, if you're an entrepreneur especially, gives you insight into where your next opportunity may come from.

While Joel's points about the detrimental effect the news can have and the problems with the media itself are pretty valid, tuning out is the wrong solution. The real solution is to be aware that what you see and hear is often biased. Being aware of the business side of the news will make you a better, more informed consumer of news thus making any news you consume more valuable and often actionable.

Now, if watching the news and reading mainstream news outlets creates anxiety for you then you probably have to brush up on your skills as a consumer of news. You don't need to watch 8hours of CNN or read the newspaper cover to cover to be informed. Consuming mainstream news reasonably shouldnt be detrimental in any way to you.

Furthermore, the fact that he singles out "mainstream" news makes me worry. It implies that news sources outside of the mainstream are somehow better or more true. This is not the case. Many of these news sources outside the mainstream like the brag about how they are the only ones with the balls to report the "truth". Whenever anyone appoints themselves the authority on truth it's time to be skeptical. Everyone has an agenda and while mainstream news may have some major problems with bias and conflicts of interest, it doesn't mean they are completely without any credibility news outside the mainstream can be just as bad if not worse than mainstream news. These organizations often push a very biased agenda or peddle ridiculous conspiracy theories while claiming to be sources of truth. Many times both the conspiracy theories and extreme bias go together in a news outlet beyond the mainstream in an effort to push some agenda. I used to be a believer in "truth" and conspiracy theories (often being unable to tell the difference). Now I understand that truth is not always so clear cut. There are degrees of truth.

The best thing to do is not to ignore mainstream news but embrace it. Embrace it with a healthy amount of skepticism and logic. It will expose you to new ideas and keep you up on what's going on in the world. So long as you consume it smartly you won't have a problem.

This whole post seems to be born out of a non-problem. I mean it's a problem but a problem born out of going to extremes. I happen to be keeping up with the news and in particular the US presidential election. It sometimes makes me angry but not to the point of disrupting my life in any way at all. It doesn't keep me from being productive. I listen to the radio as I drive to the train and sometimes read a paper on the train itself. Thoughts of the news don't distract me at work or socially. And when I see or hear nonsense I can tell its nonsense and go on with my day.

This post is a recipe for ignorance. If you plan to live a monastic life or a certain lifestyle that allows you to get away with being uninformed then this is good advice. But for the vast majority of us living modern lives trying to get by in this world, it's a shortcut to happiness that has a price.

The critical error in your logic is to believe that "the news" is news.

It just isn't. By and large, it's noise, which you either have time for in your life, or you do not.

I understand your worry about ignorance, and it's valid, but I believe that tuning into the noise makes people stupid.

Ignorance can be resolved much more quickly and on-demand than stupidity can.

It's worse than noise. It's usually a propaganda. Which is basically a noise with malicious intent.

Thank you. I recommend Orwell Rolls in His Grave http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_lYGyIaK80

A great 3-hour documentary on media censorship, consolidation and propaganda.

Ignoring news outlets leaves you without a chance though. Yeah, there's lots of news coming out of many mainstream outlets but if you tune then out completely then you leave yourself without even the chance to filter signal from noise. It doesn't take that much effort that it becomes not even worth trying anymore. Just because there's lots of noise in your signal doesn't mean you throw away the signal with the noise (or the baby out with the bath water).

That argument can go both ways. Some people, on a steady diet of noise, are even less able to discern sense from nonsense. Anchoring and all that.

When the national news was 30 minutes every night, maybe there was time between that and the next 'cast to assimilate and critically consider what you heard. Nowadays, if you're thinking about the news, you're less than a click away from the next iteration of someone else's marginally considered opinion, presented with gravitas and authority. Heck, why think?

Turn it off. Check in every week or two -- they'll still be talking about all of the same things, there's nothing to miss.

I feel like everyone is taking what I said to be an extreme opinion. I'm not arguing for daily monitoring of the the news. I'm not advancing the exact opposite of what Joel suggests. I'm suggesting something very moderate.

So yeah, checking in every week or two works. That's fine. Religiously following news is just as bad as not following any news. So we can agree on that part - the checking in part. I'm not sure how often is necessary but picking up a newspaper or watching a news cast here or there is enough.

When you say "Heck, why think?" you seem to say it with disdain as if it were a bad thing. It certainly can be and these days it's doing more harm than good but part of what was great about the news is that it took the burden of thinking away from people. So then when you hear news, instead of trying to make sense of it yourself all you have to do is ask two questions:

1. "Do I trust the way this reporter has put together this story and why?"

2. "Do I agree with the viewpoint presented" (applies for opinions mostly)

News was biased from the start and news anchors did the a lot of the legwork of thinking for the viewer and it was okay because they could be trusted. It was only once "the powers that be" caught on to the fact that Americans trusted what they heard and once they mostly stopped evaluating it that they took advantage.

There was a time when Edward R. Murrow presented the facts to the American Public and very plainly presented his own opinions to the viewers and it was valuable and trustworthy. He used his position to help take down McCarthy when the House Unamerican Activities investigations were going on. In that situation it was well worth staying informed. People felt it was their civic duty to do so. It was also a situation where me opinion had merit and the other was clearly wrong. The news used to have nuance and it wasn't childish like today's choice of either "everything has to seem equal" or "all our biased opinions are right" type news networks/shows.

But I digress and romanticize the news. You're right. You're basically saying news in moderation is good. I couldn't agree more. Being a news junkie and ignoring the news is detrimental while moderate news intake is helpful. That's all I'm saying.

> It certainly can be and these days it's doing more harm than good but part of what was great about the news is that it took the burden of thinking away from people.

This is absurd.

No, it's the truth. Absurd is taking a single sentence of what I wrote and pretending like that was my entire point. Put that in context and you'll understand how it isn't absurd (didn't Joel recently write about that too).

The news is about reporting facts but facts are meaningless without context. Journalists take facts and put them into the proper context so that we don't have to. This isn't a new idea. It's been around for as long as there's been news and while some hacks do it badly and purposely distort the facts it doesn't mean doing it in and of itself is a bad thing.

I stand by what I said. Unless you've got a whole lot of time on your hands it's awful hard to put facts into context the way journalists do. I'm glad they take the work out of it for me because I have a job and I need to eat and I don't have time to play reporter and get my own facts so that I can some pure ideal version of the news. But I still need the news because I need to make informed decisions about things that affect me like where political candidates stand, how the new health care law affects me and if they recalled my car or some toy because the engine spontaneously explodes or the toy has some chemical that's going to kill my kid. I want to hear these things from people whose jobs it is to find out these things and not from Joe Schmoe who works at the local Walmart who read it from a guy who works for the guy that some news is about.

Re: recent health care legislation. I can help you there.

If you gross > $350k/year it is not good for you personally, if you gross <$ 100k a year it is a great law for you personally.

Spend 15 minutes talking to a Canadian, an American without insurance and medical bills, and anybody rich enough to have been able to afford health care at the mayo clinic, and you would discover this.

The meta point I'm trying to make here, is that we would be better served by discovering these things on our own, than into buying the propaganda around "death panels" or believing Obama when he says we won't make you wait in line for health care - both positions advocated by the various mainstream media channels.

"Not following the news is what causes harm." - I totally agree with Joel here, and disagree with you. I've spent the last 5 years pretty much a news junkie. I spent 2-3 hours a day, equally split between the NYT, WSJ, Economist, and weekends spent listening to NPR.

What I've realized is that, in general, I'm not better informed about the world, but I am more indoctrinated into the Left Wing (NYT), Right Wing (WSJ) and Intellectual-conservative-laissez-faire-right (Economist) world views.

I guess for a more complete picture of the opposing world view philosophies, I could add BBC, al jazeera and CSMonitor to my mix - but these outlets don't inform, they promote their world views and, more importantly, pander to the desires of their audience. Suggesting the news is a way of getting unbiased knowledge of the world is like saying the Supreme Court of the United States makes judgements based on law.

You want to get an unbiased view of the world? Go out, and see it with your own two eyes, smell it with your nose, touch it with your hands.

I don't believe, after spending the last years comparing and contrasting the WSJs/NYTs takes on stories (often comedic in their different perspectives) that I'm any better informed about the world than if I had just watched the Daily Show, or even, god forbid, tuned into CNN/Fox News.

The one exception, that I've found, is Nate Silver's column - http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/. I'm not sure what worldview he is promoting, other than "Math is cool" - and I do tend to trust it with regards to what's happening in term of Polling data regarding the US election.

Other than that, though, I appreciated and agree with pretty much everything Joel wrote in his post.

I made it a point to make sure I mentioned that all news is biased. I meter said otherwise. But bias is not a bad thing like everyone wants to make us think. Sometimes bias is good. Not all opinions are created equal and this whole idea of two differing opinions both having equal merit is bullshit. Sometimes one opinion has merit and the other is just bullshit. I embrace bias.

You called yourself a news junkie. That right there is the problem. Being a news junkie is just as unhealthy as completely ignoring the media.

Watching the Daily Show is no different than consuming news from any other mainstream outlet. It may be satire but it's still news and it's still mainstream.

I don't know how you can say you're not better informed. If you consume news from anywhere at all then you're infinitely more informed than anyone who goes along with Joel's no-news-consumption advice.

I feel like you didn't read what I wrote because I do address some of what you say in my comment. I don't blame you though, I didn't realize it was such a long comment when I wrote it.

I actually did take the time to read your 852 word, eleven paragraph missive.

The part that you didn't capture, is that, by and large, listening to the "news" is not actionable, and mostly serves the purposes of indoctrination, and entertainment. There is also a difference between having a bias towards the truth, and just being biased. Saying "Man landed on the moon" is biased towards the truth. Saying "Science is a solution to many of our problems" is just bias. (albeit one that I have)

If something's really important, you'll hear about it (I would call that important subset of events the news, as opposed to the "news"). I fully support Joel's "Just turn it off and make better use of your time" position - you (and your community/country) will be better served.

Also - don't get me wrong, there is a difference between broadly educated, and well read (which I strongly, strongly support) - and being up to date on the "news" - which I see minimal value in.

Then maybe we're thinking about different versions of what the news is. Telling people to shut off the news is destructive because the news is not all indoctrination and entertainment. I'm not an idiot. I know what the news is in that sense. But when you put out a broad call to shut it all off that means shutting out the good stuff too. The better solution I'm talking about is knowing how to tell the difference. If you can do that and be informed with the news that's worth consuming that infinitely better than tuning out completely which is what Joel calls for. Maybe he didn't mean it like that but when you have an audience that large you have to assume most of the audience will take it as its written which, if they do, will lead them down an ignorant anti-intellectual path. We don't need anymore anti-intellectuals in this world (especially in the US where it's recently become cool to be an idiot and somehow being elite is a bad thing).

Your concerns seem well-intentioned but they miss the point of the post. The knuckle-draggers you worry about aren't searching out blog posts looking for reasons to stop participating. The fact of the matter is that it has been shown that people who watch TV news know less (or more false things) than those who do.

I noticed that you summarized the slant for 3 of your 4 chosen sources, but not for NPR. I'm always curious about well-informed opinions regarding NPR's editorial position, and would like to hear yours.

For the record, I have read a fair bit of BBC News and CSMonitor in past years, and came away feeling that the Beeb was predictably middle of the road, and CSM was actually fairly good. I haven't read Al Jazeera but have heard it's more respectable than Americans expect. As for your other three, I agree with each. 538 is the only part of NYT that holds my interest.

NPR clearly has a world view that they are posturing, It's just hard to nail down. They tend towards being liberal, and intellectual eliteness, but I've heard balanced stories on abortion, israel, and even gun rights - so they throw me off. NPR reminds me of Justice Kennedy. The majority of the time (as in, 90%+) I can tell you where Scalia, Roberts, Alito, Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor and Thomas will vote on a constitutional issue before them. That's not to say that Roberts won't throw me a curve ball and vote differently on an initiative than I expect (Health Care) - but, in general - I know where they will fall.

I'm no better than tossing a coin at guessing Kennedy.

I'm not saying he isn't trying to push his biased world view on me, I just haven't nailed it down yet. Same goes for NPR.

Great analogy. Thank you.

I enjoy NPR, but I often feel a little too "over-chummed" after spending too much time listening. I worked in public radio (not national public radio) for a long time, and I know that it's very easy to assume that your listeners are a) the same listeners as yesterday, and b) agreeing with you.

And often they are. The wretched worst part about NPR is the sycophantic "I'm intellectual, you're intellectual, we're all intellectual here" callers on the few shows that take them. Spending too much time in the aural company of those people makes me feel insufferable.

The news is pretty solid, though. And the APM shows are excellent.

Reminds me of this quote from Christopher Hitchens:

“I became a journalist partly so that I wouldn't ever have to rely on the press for my information.”

Why is tuning out the wrong solution? Almost everyone can "get away with being uninformed," because current events have no bearing on most people's lives most of the time. I can name one hundred things that I could learn in twenty minutes which would be more useful to me than reading the morning paper.

If something is actually interesting, then news sources which I have meticulously populated with interesting things -- my RSS feed and my friends -- will help find it. A politician giving another speech is not interesting. Another instance of a crime is not interesting. An editorial by a non-expert on something complicated is not interesting.

We pay a price for ignorance and the bill is about due...for the vast majority of us living modern lives trying to get by in this world, it's a shortcut to happiness that has a price.

What is the price? I see no price.

The price is something you described. You prefer to learn from your friends and blogs rather than news outlets. The consensus is that media is useless and biased but it's not so bad that you're better off ignoring it all.

Your friends and those bloggers are the same kind of non-experts explaining complicated things as the guy who writes the editorials you just got done criticizing.

I'm not knocking your friends or your rss feed. Those are truly useful information sources that I use too but there's no substitute for real journalism. There's a lot of bullshit journalism out there but the good stuff isn't extinct yet. If everyone keeps being so jaded about the news then journalism as a profession is going to die and that's sad because we need those kinds of people in this world.

Allow me to retreat slightly, because the quality of journalism as opposed to other information sources isn't my true objection, and I'd rather not argue about it.

My true objection is the "new" in "news." I have absolutely no interest in current events that aren't directly affecting me. Paul Krugman and Nate Silver are smart people, but if I want to spend my time learning about economics or politics -- which I really am a little bit interested in -- I think it's absurd to read a Paul Krugman column telling me what last month's economic indicators seem to be saying, or to read Nate Silver's analysis of some DNC speeches.

So instead I listen to interviews with economists about work and analysis they've done over the past N years. I find history books that have been retrospectively written by important actors, and those which have stood the test of time. I'd rather hear what Paul Krugman has to say about 2012 in twenty years. That seems like an obviously better use of time than trying to keep up with reporting on current events, which by its nature is inaccurate, incomplete, and filled with ultimately unimportant details.

The only disadvantage is that I don't really have a lot of insight into what's going on in the world right this minute. But I don't understand why that insight is important. I care about learning true, interesting things, not just learning things.

And now we're all starting to agree with each other... I don't know why there was such a rush to disagree with me when we've been in the area of the same page all along.

What you said plays exactly into my original point about being a good consumer of news. Having the ability to filter relevant information from noise is what important and not taking in news for the sake of news. I've been saying this the entire time.

I can get on board with not caring about what's going on right this minute too and I never argued that anyone should. That's just as bad as Joel's prescription for ignoring news completely. That said, you never know when something you read may become relevant to you at a later time. I would suggest making it a point to consume news that isn't relevant to you in the same way I wouldn't suggest ignoring all news but I also would say that if you have a minute, reading some random piece of news every now and then may prove useful. And if it doesn't, well then you've got something you might be able to talk intelligently about at some party. It doesn't hurt and hey, maybe it'll even get you laid.

At the end of the day Joel's post came off to me as totally anti-intellectual, naive, and self-helpish (in a bad way). Like I said before, I'm a big fan of his posts but this one did not sit right with me.

This article comes at a very opportune moment for me, as I've been reading "Bowling Alone" over the past weeks. The book chronicles the many facets of decline in civic participation in the US (voting, church attendance, donation to charity, engagement with local schools, running for local office, etc.) and explains some of the consequences of the decline.

HN readers, as a whole, are very focused on science, technology, and startup businesses; this focus produces incredible innovation and wealth, but at a very real cost to communities, family life, and other "olive trees" that make life worth living.

Not a recipe for ignorance but good advice. Nassim Nicholas Taleb gave almost identical advice years ago:

"Don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip and, of course, profiles of authors). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants... or (again) parties." and

"If something is going on, I hear about it. I like to talk to people, I socialise. Television is a waste of time. Human contact is what matters."

Taleb is right: if it's important you'll hear about it from a friend or acquaintance.

Take that thought and think it all the way through. Where will your friend hear it? Iwhat you're suggesting is that we get our news in the form of Chinese whispers. A handful of first hand accounts that become second third and fourth hand accounts. All the people spreading the news don't have the full details, time and resources to follow up. When you go to those parties and socialize it turns into a bunch of uninformed fools basically spreading rumors based on hearsay and conjecture because there wasn't a trusted source (like a journalist) who could get all the facts straight and filter some of the bullshit before it led people to missing the point.

Even if we assume that people spreading news on their own can all be trusted and reliable that still severely limits the news you can get. People who want to spread a certain message will make sure you hear about it but the real news is often something people will actively try to keep from becoming public. Without journalists working for media outlets we won't get that kind of news. Stories of corruption and scandal are easily hidden in the scenario you describe and the world ends up talking about stories that would show up in People magazine because the average person doesn't care about what's up in Lybia, they care about what's happening with the Real Housewives of Bullshit City USA.

I love Taleb, I've been following his advice for a few years now and have found that absolutely nothing in my life has changed except having a lot more free time and a lot less stress.

but your friend or acquaintance will have heard it from "the news", so it will be the same as watching it yourself as far as being informative, and without looking into the issue yourself, you'll be unable to offer counter-arguments to your friends who are parroting the mainstream news.

I agree with this. In order to be a citizen of a democracy, you need to be informed. Most things require research and listening to different points of view. They can't just be reasoned out. They require paying attention. Most of what you hear in mainstream or most any news will be noise, but there are bits in the stream that you need to sift out in order to participate in the government of your society.

Of course, democracies around the world are flawed, and being informed about the world will not necessarily lead to change, but being uninformed about the world will necessarily lead to change for the worse. Being a citizen of a democracy is about more than voting every few years. It's a full-time responsibility, and if you just take yourself out of it, you lose it.

The issue is that news in its raw form lack context. You just read the event and only have the news you immediately read before it for context. Most information is better understood from a larger window. Mainstream news does not bother to educate you in those terms. That is why it isn't informative to just read the daily paper is have a very myopic understanding of the world.

This also means we are likely better off reading longer, meatier articles that provide context for what is happening. They are the ones that explain why we have the present problems and why all actors are behaving as they are.

Critical thinking is still required for this kind of information, but this information isn't really news. It's a sort of longform journalism that is a bit removed. But it is informative and doesn't leave the reader ignorance to current events.

Have you ever watched the news? Ignorance is what you get from watching the news. http://publicmind.fdu.edu/2011/knowless/

As I wrote before, if you want to learn something pick up a good book.

Why do you think that being informed about "what is going on in the world" will translate into smart decision, which will themselves translate into changing the world?

(also, should we want to change the world? it's it better on its own??)

More so, do you think that what is short in the news are the most important problems, the real priorities?

It seems highly doubtful at best. Knowing may be half the battle, but if you can't action that knowledge it's useless.

Not following the news is what causes harm. We pay a price for ignorance and the bill is about due.

Following the biased and agendized mainstream news machine is even worse. If you only hear one side ever every story, your sense of reality and judgment will be warped (this is brainwashing). You will be out of touch with reality more so than if you did not follow the news at all because you will be biased based on what you have always heard.

"Not only is watching news going to put an out of proportion amount of negative thoughts in your mind, which will affect what you can achieve, it is also valuable time where there are many amazing and meaningful things you could be doing"

Well let's add to this then. What about time wasted sitting in synagogue or church saying the same prayers over and over again? To me that's even a bigger waste of time. What if people got together and actually learned something during that time (if together) or on their own. To me at least the sermons were always interesting (ymmv of course) but they were mainly filed under "entertainment" value.

That said there is a value to main stream news depending on what your business or product is. It is important to have the beat on what others are watching and thinking to me it does have value. Some people say "who cares what the WSJ or NYT thinks"? But the truth is others care and carry that info out to people and it's a good idea to know what others are going to believe and think. That doesn't mean that you have to watch mainstream everyday, but I wouldn't go as far as saying the right approach is to stop watching TV totally as Joel says he has done. Or reading mainstream news.

The more mainstream news is, the easier it will reach you, whatever you do, whether you spend time looking for it or not. That's kind of obvious, in hindsight, that's why it's called mainstream. Consequently, watching and reading news is useless, since you will always find someone eager to talk to you about the important stuff, and you can always double check the facts afterwards.

Reading already curated sources of info, preferably quite a few of them, coming from varied backgrounds, and doing a more focused research afterwards if it seems worth it, beats mainstream news most of the time.

And by curated, I mean low volume sources. My rule of thumb is that if an rss feed (which is where most of my news comes from) gets more than four or five updates a week, it's probably not worth it (or I subscribed to it because it's a type of noise that I like, but it's still noise).

I feel the same way about the information that we are bombarded with on a daily basis. He is right, in the sense that much of it is very negative, though I also feel some of it is information that everyone should know. With that in mind, I would like to know where everyone goes for their information. It seems that alot of the information and news that everyone should know, be it positive or negative, is very difficult to find. This raises the question, how do we get this information into the mainstream media? The biggest problem for me is the lack of control, users have over the information that they are presented with. Even Google is able to show us the content they want us to see, or think we want to see. I think that this control is really destroying our ability to change as personalities in the online and offline world.

I stopped following the TV news years ago and almost never browse news websites. I use my social feeds (Twitter, HN, Facebook) and the Reddit frontpage as a high-pass filter for what news events I might care about digging more into. This cuts out almost all "X is bad for you!" scaremongering and celebrity nonsense (which I have almost a separate filter for mentally). When something like the recent anti-Islam movie fiasco happens I hear about it and dig in more. It's very freeing not to have to hear distorted stories about how everything's going to hell.

Right now the local mayoral election has made me pay more attention to the local news and I almost always regret that additional noise, even though the local organization I use (The Voice of San Diego) is about as good at journalism as I've seen.

As I get older, I've grown to understand that you can't ignore news and media completely, you just need to filter it to the point that you can make it useful for your needs. Like any other media, 99.99 percent of news is crap. Between smart phone apps and RSS feeds I can limit my "daily consumption" to what I want and need with a modest amount of ads and fluff taking up my time. But periodically I hit the browser or the library and get caught up on subjects that may require deeper knowledge. The best source of links to a broad spectrum of media I have found is here: http://www.insideautomotive.com/sources.htm

A year or two ago I read Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Work Week. Most of the advice in the book did not pertain to me, but one tidbit of knowledge that I gain is that you can save time by simply ignoring the news. Most of us are not in the position to change anything, and much of the news does not pertain directly to us. The benefit from being informed often not great than the cost of losing the time needed to read/watch the news.

I tried to find some quotes from the book, but the best I could find was only this article: http://www.evomend.net/en/tim-ferriss-4-hour-workweek-3-5-le...

I've stopped going Reddit, for a similar effect.

I keep Redditing, but unsubscribe from most of the default subreddits, and subscribe to TrueReddit, TrueAtheism, and whatever else holds my interest.

That way you put yourself in a bubble, I found reddit to be much more interesting when I installed RES http://redditenhancementsuite.com/ and used the filter to hide all the crappy or uninteresting subreddits and browse r/all. Some new, small communities are absolutely spectacular, see http://www.reddit.com/r/standupshots for example.

I pruned my subscription lists too, and now it's as if it's frozen. Beside those 2 you mentioned what else is time worthy ?

Well, what are your interests?

let's not try to fit my bubble, throw me anything

TrueAtheism, DebateReligion, MensRights, TrueGaming, AskScience.

Facebook and Twitter is mainstream on its own.

I agree with Joel here. He echos a similar post written a while back that asks an interesting question.

If you did not know Barack Obama was the president of the United States, would your life be affected?

For me, the answer is no. You?

The last time I saw any mainstream news that wasn't part of a youtube joke clip or actually important enough to make it to news sites like slashdot was... well... I think this one time in 5th grade around 1991 I was forced to read a news article of my choice to write an essay about. I don't remember what it was about or anything though these days.

So yeah, last time I saw a paper was 1991. Last time I saw a news TV thing was probably mid 90s as well, but I don't remember it since I have literally never seen a full news hour or however long it goes.

I've come across this while building the feed list for http://skimfeed.com.

To keep signal to noise as high as possible, I've had to remove all regular news sources from the site (CNN, MSNBC...). They're time wasting, regurgitated junk adding little to no value to readers lives.

At the same time, I think ignoring mainstream news completely is not the solution, it's nice to know what the masses are consuming and it keeps you up on trends.

Conclusion? everything in moderation.

I think news and several other activites can be grouped under the "will this have made any impact in my life within 5 years?" good procrastination umbrella.

I strongly agree. I became happier once I stopped following whatever mainstream news channels. I consume new things via social circles (no G+ pun intended), meaning there's a sifter of curators picking stuff for me. I'm aware of the fact that this can put you in some sort of tunnelvision, but you can prevent that by sticking your head out now and then to sniff something new.

I do not mean to disagree with the OP, but here's a thought:

What would happen if we required someone like Warren Buffet to ignore the news?

What if he was prohibited from reading a single newspaper?

What would happen?

I know many people who read multiple newspapers every day, without fail. If they were not allowed access to the news, I think their ability to function in their chosen profession would be severely impacted.

There are by and large two types of stories in newspapers. Stories that appeal to emotion and stories that relate to data.

From my experience in newsrooms, stories that are primarily emotional are dealt with by Journalists nearly exclusively, they require strong story telling and usually invasive interviewing and exposure.

Stories from data tend to be collected by outside interests and presented to newspapers. Journalists can then spin stories from the data, or if they are writing for a financial publication typically highlight the most salient points for consumption. Occasionally, and far more infrequently than in the past, the media institution will collect a survey themselves or crunch the numbers, and this is almost always pseudo-scientific.

Ultimately journalists rarely improve this data other than to make it more gossip worthy. There is a huge amount of data presented every day, from pr firms, from foundations and from public bodies, and all of it wants to be read.

Warren Buffet might prefer to read it in the New York Times, but with a strong and deep twitter feed almost anyone can now be as informed as the average news room (there are exceptions to this, on the other hand, reading those same newspapers cover to cover is also a good way to fill your head with soporific twaddle)

While I don't agree with the original article, as I think many publications offer some well reasoned analysis and challenging opinions, social media is more than enough to stay as well informed as anyone, though it remains more difficult to navigate.

On the other hand, imagine if Warren Buffet were only allowed to get his information from cable news. That would be frightening.

Interesting comment. PR may see social media as a threat, for exactly the reason you've mentioned. "Well-informed" is relative I think to what you're doing. For example, someone doing hard science research in a lab may only need access to scientific journals. She needs to keep pace with what is published in her area of research only; she could be oblivious to what's happening in the world and still be effective in her job. But from what I know of Buffet, I think he needs access to what journalists are saying. Again, it matter what you're trying to do.

> What would happen if we required someone like Warren Buffet to ignore the news?

I think that's missing the point a bit. The OP was pointing out that there is an opportunity cost of consuming the news. For the OP, the return on his time investment was not worth it. But for someone like Warren Buffet, it obviously would be.

No, I think I understand the OP. That's why I said "I do not mean to disagree..." Did you catch that part?

I'm simply pointing out that for some people the news is very valuable to what they do. As you say, for the OP it might not have as much value. It depends on what you're trying to do.

I think a more interesting title would be: "The power of being able to think for yourself". For example, it's possible to be able to read the news, when it is overwhelmingly negative or even low quality news (e.g. it doesn't tell you anything you don't already know), and still derive something positive from it. And there are many examples that prove this: businesspeople who read heaps of news and still manage to accomplish quite a lot, at least in the opinion of their peers.

You may stop reading the news. But most everyone else is still reading it. And to the extent your business is concerned with some segment of that group I refer to as "everyone else", the news is a factor to consider.

Hope that's a little more clear.

pg's essay on PR as it relates to startups is a decent intro into how the news can be important for hackers.

"The quicker goes the journalist the slower go his thoughts. The result is the newspaper of our time, which every day can be delivered earlier and earlier, and which, every day, is less worth delivering at all." - GK Chesterton...in the 1920's.

Good news come from being close to the source while having means of integrating the knowledge. For programming topics I found irc channels and conferences are hard to beat. Unless you work in interesting companies.

I feel like i wrote this article! i stopped watching news/ propaganda/pr for a year and a half and i can't believe i wasted my time back then!

Ditto, but I did it back around 2008. Most of the articles I read are less on current events than they are on subjects that lean towards timeless ideas, concepts and theories. Plus I already have tons of interests (mostly humanities) and that keeps my plate full. Recently, I also started 'printing as PDF' any articles I want to read later and putting them in a folder on my desktop.

Being aware of what constitutes propaganda/pr allows me to watch some mainstream films and TV shows while not being as brain-washed as someone who watched them 'to relax'/unfiltered. Being a person who likes to think and analyze, I can relax/rest when I sleep.

It's not only a problem of negativity though. It's also about churnalism, which compromises the integrity of a lot of mainstream news.

There is one really big problem with social news: Filter Bubbles.


I'm down to a few minutes of Google News per day, but that's hard to break.

There was a time when I should have felt terribly ashamed of not being up-to-date. I lived in a chronic apprehension lest I might, so to speak, miss the last bus, and so find myself stranded and benighted, in a desert of demodedness, while others, more nimble than myself, had already climbed on board, taken their tickets and set out toward those bright but, alas, ever receding goals of Modernity and Sophistication. Now, however, I have grown shameless, I have lost my fears. I can watch unmoved the departure of the last social-cultural bus—the innumerable last buses, which are starting at every instant in all the world’s capitals. I make no effort to board them, and when the noise of each departure has died down, “Thank goodness!” is what I say to myself in the solitude. I find nowadays that I simply don’t want to be up-to-date. I have lost all desire to see and do the things, the seeing and doing of which entitle a man to regard himself as superiorly knowing, sophisticated, unprovincial; I have lost all desire to frequent the places and people that a man simply must frequent, if he is not to be regarded as a poor creature hopelessly out of the swim. “Be up-to-date!” is the categorical imperative of those who scramble for the last bus. But it is an imperative whose cogency I refuse to admit. When it is a question of doing something which I regard as a duty I am as ready as anyone else to put up with discomfort. But being up-to-date and in the swim has ceased, so far as I am concerned, to be a duty. Why should I have my feelings outraged, why should I submit to being bored and disgusted for the sake of somebody else’s categorical imperative? Why? There is no reason. So I simply avoid most of the manifestations of that so-called “life” which my contemporaries seem to be so unaccountably anxious to “see”; I keep out of range of the “art” they think is so vitally necessary to “keep up with”; I flee from those “good times” in the “having” of which they are prepared to spend so lavishly of their energy and cash.

From "Silence is Golden" by Aldous Huxley

News is sensationalized, augmented, agendized, skewed, propaganda, entertainmentized garbage.

Could not agree with the author more. Only pay attention to "the news" if you spend the necessary time online researching and finding out each real/complete story (facts and both sides of the story). Otherwise how can you not help being persuaded and shaped by the mainstream media?

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