news detox: how I went from being a journalist to nearly zero news consumption in the last month

One month ago my life was dozens of push, Twitter and Dataminr alerts, hundreds of emails & a lot of TVs. Here’s what I learned in my “news detox”

One month ago, I left what I thought was my dream job in my dream career field. Walking out of a newsroom was a challenge. It was also a huge relief. The first thing I did was delete every news app from my phone, unfollowed many social media accounts (the best that I could), remove most social media apps from my phone, hide newsletters from my favorite sources and just take a breath. I’ve been calling it a “news detox.”

It’s now been a month of nearly zero news intake, and I have to say, I am really enjoying it. I am calmer, I have more time, and I think I am happier.

Is it sustainable? I’m not sure. I believe the lack of some news makes me a less informed citizen and I don’t like the idea of *not* supporting journalism.

How well have I tuned out news

I know a few things that have happened:

  • There have been some issues with Bill Gates and misconduct
  • The G7 summit happened, and President Biden went to Europe
  • Some people believe vaccines have made them magnetic?
  • I’ve heard “China lab leak” mentioned, but I don’t know if it’s conspiracy theories or not
  • Chicago opened back up
  • Jeff Bezos is going to space
  • He’s also not paying taxes

That’s about it.

Anyone who knows me probably thinks I am broken. I don’t even know if what I said above was fully accurate, and I am sure I am missing other things.

A phone showing headlines, which I saw quite often before my news detox
Obi Onyeador via Unsplash

I have only consumed news in two podcasts: Pivot and Sway.

Pivot, hosted by Scot Galloway and Kara Swisher, looks at the intersection of tech, media, and business. So, that where I heard about Bezos and Gates. Honestly, I find the two of them hilarious, and that’s primarily why I listen.

Swisher also hosts Sway from New York Times Opinion, where she interviews people in power. I find it extremely compelling. It’s not usually news of the day, and most of the things discussed recently I had some knowledge about. Still, the most recent episode on ProPublica’s tax investigation on wealthy Americans was all new.

Other than those two podcasts, I haven’t actively read/listened/watched any other news.

Where I have failed

Accidentally news slips have happened (as you can see in that list above). I forgot how many outlets I had turned on for Facebook Live notifications. I quickly turned those off.

Twitter is a landmine, so I limited my time to five minutes a day with screen time but occasionally see a headline quick as I scroll.

Once in a while, a news alert from New York Times, Axios, or Block Club Chicago shows up in my email. I use Hey as my email, so I can filter them pretty well.

So, I have accidentally seen a few headlines here and there, but normally I am mindful when I see news. Either I close the app or scroll quickly past it.

The one social media app I haven’t deleted or set a limit on is TikTok, which is HILARIOUS to me. I was the most anti-TikTok person there was pre-2021. I first heard about the app when I was a part-time Starbucks Barista. People became obsessed with some “TikTok drink,” which had Strawberries and Raspberries in it (now there are a ton of those types of drinks invented on the platform).

It wasn’t until the Capitol Riots when a newsroom leader asked me to download Parler to help report on that story. Later that night, I decided to go to the polar opposite app. I am hooked! The algorithm is amazing. The good news: I don’t see a ton of news on it. Once in a while, someone will post a TikTok related to a topical event, and I see that, but it’s fairly rare.

My friends and family also know I am unplugged from the news and usually don’t bother telling me what’s happening. Or someone will start with “did you hear….” and I say, “I don’t care.”

Why detox from the news?

This idea has been in my head for a bit. I have suffered from pretty intense anxiety over the last few years, and mental health professionals have often said to try and reduce my news intake.

The problem—even when I was off work, I always felt I had to stay somewhat connected. It’s tough to go back to a newsroom and not have any clue what happened while you were out.

A few months ago, this really hit me over the head when everyone in my company—a corporation with 5,500 journalists—received mandatory HR training around masks in the workplace and mental health.

One tip in the training: turn off the news, as it increases stress.

Now, how on earth did that get sent to a company in the business of creating news content?

The training had me relecting, and the last year was really overwhelming. There was a period of time between my job in local news and planning the start-up for NewsNation where my job was more in project management and less in the day-to-day news as we built the platform.

It wasn’t a complete news detox, but it was enough of a taste for me to want more.

So, when I finally decided to quit, it became my focus that at 6:01 p.m. on my last day, I would delete every news app from my phone.

how I’ve felt on my “news detox”

I have gone through a range of feelings. Mostly calm. I don’t care really what’s going on, and my world is still functioning fine.

a sphere of the world I have gone through a range of feelings. Mostly calm. I don't care really what's going on, and my world is still functioning fine in my news detox
Joshua Rawson-Harris via Unsplash

I haven’t even felt really an urge to re-download any apps.

I do feel guilt. I believe journalism—especially local news—is vital to democracy and needs loyal readers/viewers/listeners. To fend off some of that guilt, I still pay for my local news subscription (even if I haven’t opened it).

news detox forever?

To be an informed and responsible citizen, I need to know what’s going on. I also find the news fascinating still.

I do think I will slightly leave the news detox soon, but with intention and mindfulness.

Maybe I’ll read my Block Club Chicago newsletter, listen to another podcast and perhaps subscribe to a print newspaper? I’m not sure. But, the “slow news diet” might be what’s next for me.

newspapers flowing on printing press as I consider a slow news diet after my news detox
Bank Phrom via Unsplash

I can say for certain-no more push alerts for breaking news.

what do you think? comment below about your experiences, advice or thoughts

In a later blog post, I plan to explain a little more about why I made the transition from leading digital for a national news start-up to a project manager in the digital agency world.

By Michael Geheren

Michael Geheren is a project manager at 10up.