Through our choices, we have the power to improve our media diet, our mental health and possibly society, writes Jodie Jackson, author of You Are What You Read: Why Changing Your Media Diet Can Change the World
Over the years I spent researching the effects of the news on our mental wellbeing, many people doubted the ability of individuals and organisations to bring about positive change in the newsroom. They told me: “The news is the way that it is; you are never going to change it.” But as playwright George Bernard Shaw so eloquently put it: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Be unreasonable with me. Refuse to accept that there is only one way that the news should be; refuse to accept that negative news is the only narrative worth telling; refuse to accept that the news ‘is the way that it is’ and instead decide that it should be more balanced in its coverage. And then start making changes and choices that reflect this.
To start you off, here are six effective ways to change your media diet in a way that will help you become more informed, engaged and empowered.
1. Become a conscious consumer
In the words of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, news organisations are just ‘giving the people what they want’. Well, let us change what we want, and they will give us something different. Industries that have gone through their own consumer-driven evolution all have one thing is common: they rely on a conscious consumer. Wilbur Schramm, a sociologist researching the relationship between news and national development, said: “Change will not take place unless those who are expected to change know and accept the reasons, the methods, and the rewards for changing.” Those of us who learn the ‘why’ of anything will always find the ‘how’.
2. Read and watch good-quality journalism
The conflict between good quality journalism and profitability is not just a problem for the industry; it is our problem to solve too. We rely so heavily on the news to help us understand, as well as help shape, our society, and poor-quality information will lead to poor-quality decisions. Our actions do matter – human beings still have the capacity to create change. Let us be the ones to make quality news profitable and abundant once again. Traditional industry leaders in the media may fear change and experimentation as it is their livelihood on the line and they have their own vision. However, they can often be convinced by demonstration.
In the words of Rupert Murdoch, news organisations are just ‘giving the people what they want’. Well, let us change what we want, and they will give us something different
3. Avoid clickbait
With the abundance of information, we face a daily battle between what is good for us in the long term and what we want or enjoy right now – or where we are being drawn to through catchy or sensational headlines. Although it is becoming the trend, the news was not built on ideals of entertainment. Its goal was instead to educate, inform, and empower us by helping us understand the world beyond our personal experience of it. Can you imagine if schools, which also exist to educate a large audience, used the commercial case that by giving their pupils what they want, they are more likely to return the next day? We understand that school is about long-term objectives over immediate pleasure, and we need to look at the news the same way.
4. Be prepared to pay for content
There is no such thing as a free lunch. If we are not paying for the content we read to be produced, someone else is. And news organisations will ultimately answer to whoever is paying the bills. If news organisations are relying on advertising to be their main source of income, corporations will be prioritised over consumers. So, it is simple: we must be prepared to pay for news content and support news organisations to enable them to truly become independent. This can be done through buying the newspaper or magazine, subscribing either online or offline or simply donating to news organisations that value good-quality journalism.
Let us be the ones to make quality news profitable and abundant once again
5. Read beyond the news
We do not have to solely rely on news organisations to educate us on world issues. In our information-rich environment, there are plenty of other valuable sources available. Novels can help us flex our emotional muscles, allowing us to develop feelings of empathy and understanding of others, and nonfiction books give us well-researched depth, insight and knowledge. Documentaries can provide a focused platform to deep-dive into a specific issue. Podcasts and TED-style talks are growing in popularity as a way to connect with and learn about the world and each other. Good sources will provide good-quality information that will enable you to make good-quality decisions.
6. Seek out solutions-focused stories
With so much choice in our modern-day media environment, we do not need to wait for the industry to change for us to have a more balanced media diet; we can create this change for ourselves. Once you take a more deliberate approach to creating a more balanced media diet that includes solutions as well as problems, you will become aware that the world is filled with incredible people, doing incredible things. It is up to us to find them, learn from them, and be inspired by them. If we can find these stories that inspire us to create change, we can change not just the media – we can also potentially change the world.
Jodie Jackson is a partner at the Constructive Journalism Project and author of the book You Are What You Read: Why Changing Your Media Diet Can Change the World, which is out now
Image: Roman Kraft