kicking the (news) habit
I’ve done it. I’ve given up news.
I mean of course that’s not strictly true, anyone who knows me knows I consume news like my life depends on it. There’s the comfy breakfast news, the “proper” evening news, cheeky channel 4 news, shouty Question Time news, aggressive Newsnight news, and lovely Tomasz Schafernaker bookending the whole thing. I listen to five separate current affairs podcasts, I glance over discarded papers, I read (the first third of) every premium Telegraph article that pops up on my Twitter feed, and Radio 4 is my idea of silence. Then there are the news-based comedy shows; Have I Got News for You, Mock the Week, The Mash Report, The Now Show, The News Quiz. Current affairs are my jam.
It was the Iraq war that kickstarted my news habit, and it’s a habit which has lasted a lifetime (it also triggered a fleeting dalliance into song-writing which thankfully has not). I saw protests on the television and I wanted to be part of it, and because I couldn’t be part of it, I wanted to watch it. Fascinated by the horror of it all, I could never look away, and the bad news kept on coming; missing children, brutal murders, natural disasters, economic crises, corrupt dictators. I drank them all in from the comfort of my sofa. It’s a morbid addiction that I wish I didn’t have to feed.
So, I am trying to get clean.
I always felt it was a duty of mine to watch the news. I was not having my benefits taken away, I was not living in the path of a hurricane, I was not waiting for my missing child to come home. Submerging myself in the news was a way to understand, in some small way, what people all over the world were experiencing. But the constant need for information was becoming overwhelming, and I started to get the sneaking submission that gorging myself on endless hours of political commentary wasn’t the recipe for a healthy mind.
It all started when David Bowie died – I firmly believe he was the sexy alien holding all of this together. First there was Brexit, then there was Trump, and Weinstein loomed over every bulletin like a revolting shadow. Whilst the news used to contain little nuggets of joy – Barack Obama, gay marriage, scandal-free Olympic games, Michelle Obama, Michelle Obama again - it now seemed to be getting gloomier and gloomier.
Slowly but surely, I started to switch off. It wasn’t a conscious decision at first, but more of a reaction to a constant rumbling of low-level anxiety. I began to acknowledge that these were things I could not change, and that didn’t feel as bad as I had thought. There is a distinction to be made between not participating in the help, and not participating in the hype. The hype helps no-one.
So, whilst I will keep myself informed, I know longer feel the need to scroll BBC news every morning before even getting out of bed. I have realised that I can still try and make the world a better place, in my own small way, without knowing who the education secretary is. And right now, I don’t. And that feels great.
**For full disclosure, I am writing this whilst watching the news, but I am allowing myself a cheeky shot of it tonight because the Brexit plans are being announced. It’s a special occasion. It’s Newsmas.