The news can make you sick.
No, I’m not talking specifically about news stories that are sickening—although that is part of it; this is about the mental, and even physical, effects of becoming addicted to the news.
Texas Tech researchers questioned 1,100 U.S. adults online and found that 17 percent report what can be considered an unhealthy relationship with the news. They are news addicts who become so consumed by the news that it causes them to suffer higher levels of stress.
“For these individuals, a vicious cycle can develop in which, rather than tuning out, they become drawn further in, obsessing over news and checking for updates around the clock to alleviate their emotional distress,” said Bryan McLaughlin, associate professor of advertising at the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech, and one of the researchers.
“But it doesn’t help,” McLaughlin said, “and the more they check the news, the more it begins to interfere with other aspects of their lives.” For these obsessed news consumers, “the world can seem like a dark and dangerous place.”
Three-fourths of the individuals who are news obsessed report symptoms associated with mental illness and 61 percent said they have experienced feeling physically ill.
Just as with any addiction, part of the responsibility rests with the supplier. The cable and network news channels combined with the plethora of online and social media sources are constantly battling for eyeballs and clicks.
“The economic pressures facing outlets, coupled with technological advances and the 24-hour news cycle, have encouraged journalists to focus on selecting ‘newsworthy’ stories that grab news consumers’ attention,” McLaughlin said.
Chris Stirewalt, in his new book Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machine Divides America and How to Fight Back, argues that there is still great journalism, but the intense competition for readers, viewers and profits has pushed “clicks” to the top of the pyramid.
“Rage revenue-addicted news companies are plagued by shoddy reporting, sensationalism, groupthink, and brain-dead partisan tribalism. Newsrooms rely on emotion-driven blabber to entrance conflict-addled super users,” said Stirewalt.
No wonder some of us are feeling queasy.
As with any addiction, the first step is to admit you have a problem. I’m not sure we can count on the news business to do that anytime soon, so it is up to consumers to begin healing themselves.
That includes avoiding the unhealthy “click-bait” and settling for “healthier choices” of news, ignoring the media rage generators and especially keeping the disturbing news in context with the positive things that are happening in our lives, our communities and elsewhere.
Those stories are out there; they are just buried under trash heaps of outrage.