An ode to print news

Is there a space for regular news consumption in the low-information life? Can one enage with the news without winding up infuriated and depressed?

For me, it’s looking like the answer is yes — as long as it’s in print.

I’ve long been hyper-critical of todays’ new media. The internet has forced publishers into a brutal race for clicks. Today, the measure of success is “engagement”: how many people can you get to click your stuff, and how much can you get them to do?

At the same time, the relentless expansion of demand (more eyeballs to feed) and the rise of fast-acting, short-attention-spam channels like Twitter, has created a vortex of demand that publishers must scramble to fill.

I’ve cut out digital news from my life, more or less, for the last three years. I’m not always good — sometimes, particularly when things are nuts, I find myself drawn back into the malestrom. But this always comes at the cost of my happiness and mental wellbeing.

In short: reading the news online consistently makes me feel worse, not better. It makes me angry and depressed.

The answer? Switch to print.

I took out a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, and I try to read it most days.

When you hold a print newspaper, you’re holding something that a team of human beings assembled. A real editor chose where to put each story. Headlines are there because it’s the best one, not because an algorithm figured out that it got 3.4% more clicks.

Print newspapers are distraction-free. No scrolling feed of the latest inflammatory headline. No inane comments. Just the text and you.

I haven’t done an exhaustive back and forth comparison, but I’m pretty sure the actual text is different. Print stories tend to be heavily factual. Digital stories tend to feature more emotionally enticing stuff — photos, pull quotes, dramatic blurbs.

When I finish reading the print paper, I feel like I have some more information about the world that I can act on in a positive and thoughtful manner. My mind feels calmer and more composed. It’s the polar opposite from what it feels like to finish a digital news binge.

The takeaway? Don’t quit the news entirely — try a print paper, and see how it feels to read news like a human again.