I am a heavy news consumer (mostly print and radio for pleasure; television and online for work) and I am a news manager. I had seen the book before and somehow just neglected it; stop reading the news, really ?! But last time I was in Payot Geneva I could no longer resist and bought the book. It took me three more months before I started reading it. Was I afraid of losing my job ? Making myself redundant ? “Stop reading the news. A manifesto for a happier, calmer and wiser life” is written by a Swiss, so I had to pick the brain of Rolf Dobelli, also the author of “The art of thinking clearly” perhaps in an attempt to better understand the Swiss.
The central idea of the book is that if you skip consuming news you basically don’t miss on anything.
The news is everywhere, the majority of it is free, and it sides automatically into you brain. You don’t have to store it anywhere, and there’s nothing to dispose of afterwards. These ‘negative obstacles’ are what make the news so insidious. I didn’t realize this until much later, by which time I’d spent tens of thousands of hours consuming the news, I asked myself two questions : do you understand the world better now ? And : do you make better decisions ? The answer in both cases was no.
Do you understand the world better ? Or even better : what makes you understand the world better, is at the heart of the question. I’ll come back to this.
Dobelli quotes Theodore Sturgeon’s Law that states 90 % of anything is crap. So if 90 % of news is crap, then 90 % of this book is crap. So where is the 10 % meaningful stuff ? Is this about the quantity of news, or the quality of news ? My two cents is that his 10 % truth is the following :
Democracy only works when it’s accompanied by a free press that brings the truth to light and depicts situations in all their complexity. This is far harder than reporting the news. What we need, then, are two kinds of journalism. First we need investigative journalism, which uncovers facts and wrongdoing. Second, we need journalism that describes the bigger picture, providing background information and explanations; this is known as ‘explanatory reporting’. Both types are difficult. Both are expensive. Both demand skill on the part of producers and concentration on the part of the consumers.
The issue with popular science books and their catchy titles is that they are half science, half truth, half factual, half personal interpretation, … Why didn’t he plea for a consumption of more qualitative news ? Consume news from trusted news sources, such as but not exclusively public service media ?
In the end I loved reading the book as it restated the importance of quality journalism, and we can’t have enough of that.
“Stop reading the news”, Rolf Dobelli, Sceptre, 2019.