In just 24 days, the United States government shutdown for three days, the massive sexual assault case surrounding a USA Gymnastics doctor concluded with a 175-year prison sentence, and two teenagers died in a Kentucky high school mass shooting. The world continues to crash ahead without pause, regardless if anyone is ready for it.
Information now travels at such a fast pace that even missing a single day’s worth of news can mean missing events that change the game for the nation, as well as you directly. Missing news is simply not an option anymore. Still, staying informed is not always easy, and the emotional toll of processing accurate and unbiased news is often overlooked.
“News fatigue” is a term that began to surface in the late 2000s. It is used to describe the feeling when keeping up with current events becomes a source of anxiety or a serious stressor. Constant exposure to breaking news across various media platforms may cause elevated stress levels, according to Lynn Bufka, a psychologist at the American Psychological Association. Keeping up with current events should not be this stressful, but because of the fast-pace and sheer volume of digital news, staying informed has become a taxing endeavor.
The spread of news through social media has made the constant barrage of events difficult to escape, whether it be a pop-up CNN notification about a wildfire during dinner, a Facebook post on mass shootings during a family outing, or another tweet from President Donald Trump.
The increasingly frenzied pace of the news cycle itself has also contributed to news fatigue. According to “Encyclopedia Britannica,” CNN became the first news station to broadcast for 24 hours a day in 1980. Since then, many other large news stations, such as Fox News and MSNBC, have also committed to being on-air throughout the entire day.
Because breaking news is not happening at every second of the day, many stations turn to a “kind of pulpy, quasi-tabloid, quasi-celebrity news; anything that’s sort of waiting for the next great crisis,” as said by NPR’s Media Correspondent David Folkenflik. When real news and filler news are broadcasted together, it can be difficult to differentiate what really needs attention. At the end of the day, having every moment of our lives flashing with “Breaking News” headlines does not help any of us become more informed. Rather, it dispenses diluted snippets of information we find too time-consuming to remember and process.
This bombardment of news fragments can quickly lead to news fatigue, but there are solutions and strategies available in order to be informed without the added stress and anxiety.
Establishing a news routine can help you focus your consumption. By allocating a specific time of the day to focus solely on reading the news, you can settle down and take time to digest the content rather than muddle yourself in the endless notifications throughout the day. Choosing the form your news comes in can also be helpful. I like receiving a newsletter every morning more than periodical notifications on my phone. For others, it may be a podcast or a video. Finding the method that fits the best with your lifestyle will make staying informed easier and more enjoyable.
Beyond the adaptations we can make as individuals, we must look fix what is at the basis of all these problems: an inherently flawed system of reporting. The way news is currently distributed is unsustainable for both journalists and citizens. Journalists are pressured to create massive amounts of content that citizens simply cannot read or understand effectively, feeding into to the broken system that has contributed to the rise of news fatigue. There should be a focus on quality over quantity — of delivering content that citizens benefit from reading. We must find a way to bring news back to its original purpose: to inform, but without the stress.