Last month, a remarkable story went viral. The New York Times profiled1 a man who after November 8, 2016 refused to learn about anything in the news. He even went as far as to listen to white noise in public to avoid overhearing anything. The reaction on Twitter2 was harsh and well-deserved: ‘Today in White Male Privilege’ seemed to sum up the radical selfishness of the subject of the profile.
But while the anger of many of the respondents was understandable, so was the impulse that drove Erik Hagerman to move to an Ohioan pig farm. Every one of us is faced with a deluge of news and information, much of it bad. Current events can be overwhelming - enough that it has been common practice for people to threaten to pack their bags and move abroad. (Full disclosure - I have, in fact, done this. I am an American expat in London.)
That said, Hayden Toftner’s letter to the editor3 made a good point. Surely Hagerman’s efforts to keep the noise out, and the cost of inconveniencing friends and family, are more trouble than the news itself would cause? This might be a calculation that each of us needs to make individually. There are clearly pros and cons to both approaches but what if there was another way entirely?
There is good news. Curated newsletters provide a middle ground; between unfiltered exposure to all information and zero access to any information. There is an important caveat because not all curated news feeds are created equal. For instance Facebook might be considered a curated news feed but put together by your Facebook friends.
However there is a problem with much of the news online and we have to look at the source carefully. There has been an unbelievable proliferation of churnalism over the past few years. Much current awareness shared on Facebook is meaningless clickbait. There are lists masquerading as news, or low-quality regurgitation of sensational stories.
Some quality news publications offer email newsletters or digests that promise to keep you informed, like the New York Times’ Morning Briefing. But curated newsletters are the next step. They are an important source of information put together by industry professionals. High quality current awareness services alert professionals to recently published material of interest.
Information professionals have the skills to determine what is relevant and which sources are trustworthy. You are already combating information overload and current awareness fatigue. Though you may have been focused on keeping professionals informed in their work context, your skills are transferable in a personal context.
If you’ve been asking yourself what you can do about the state of things, as many of those who objected the most strongly to Erik Hagerman’s news blockade have been, this might be the answer to your question. Would you offer to curate a newsletter for friends who have declared that they will no longer follow the news?
Tell us why or why not in the comments below.
- Dolnick, S. (2018 THe Man Who Knew Too Much, The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/10/style/the-man-who-knew-too-little.html
- SFGATE (2018) Twitter reactions to New York Times story 'The Man Who Knew Too Little' https://www.sfgate.com/news/slideshow/Twitter-reactions-to-New-York-Times-story-The-179387.php
- Letters (2018) One Man’s Self-Imposed News ‘Blockade’, The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/17/opinion/news-blockade.html