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A Gradual Quest For More Meaningful News

April 7, 2014

Renowned journalist and broadcaster Peter Laufer has written a new book, Slow News: A Manifesto for the Critical News Consumer. Slow News challenges us to reevaluate our relationships with the news, relationships that, Laufer argues, have deeply harmful effects—the intellectual equivalent of consuming an empty-calorie diet. Today on the blog, Peter Laufer reflects on current events to make a case for why we need to slow down our news. 

Was a friend or relative or colleague of yours on the lost Malaysia airliner? Were your neighbors inundated by the tragic mudslide in Washington state? Probably not. Nonetheless the CNNs of the world spewed unending accounts of both recent news stories, often reporting nothing. Reporters interviewed reporters who knew nothing but who did not hesitate to speculate. Reporters interviewed so-called experts who knew nothing but often did not hesitate to speculate.

Of course both are riveting stories of tragedy and we hoped for survival. Human nature draws us to such tales as we consider our own mortality and engage in what the National Enquirer told me years ago is the basic criteria for all its reportage: each story must either make you wish you were the protagonist or make you relieved you are not.

Nonetheless, unless we did know a passenger on the plane or a resident of Oso, Washington, how necessary is it for us to subject ourselves to the minute-by-minute stressors of the updates that spiked CNN's ratings? Aren't these examples of stories that can wait for us to digest them once they're resolved? Shouldn't we prioritize our news consumption, especially in this era of too much information?

I believe that such rationing is mandatory for our mental health. That's why I wrote Slow News: A Manifesto for the Critical News Consumer. It is a step-by-step guide on how to wean ourselves from the 24-hour news cycle. It is a paean to my motto, "Yesterday's News Tomorrow." We simply do not need all the dismal details of the daily downer creating anxiety and brain clutter in our overwrought heads.

Used with permission from The New Yorker

Of course it is imperative to know as fast as possible if there is a pending crisis in our midst. But when there is passing trouble half a world distance, details can wait until the reporters spewing noise at us at least know the basics of the story. And allowing ourselves to be consumed by the disaster-of-the-moment or the celebrity-divorce-of-the-moment diverts our attention from more difficult to analyze geopolitical world events that deserve our attention.  

Not too long after CNN moves its news cycle past the anomalies of Malaysia Flight 370, the Russian invasion of Crimea will continue to reverberate world affairs for hundreds of millions of us in America, Europe and Asia. So I invite you to join my Slow News Movement and reject addiction to faux news. 

—Peter Laufer

You can order Slow News here.

An award-winning author, journalist, broadcaster, and documentarian, Peter Laufer has written more than a dozen books, including Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq, Forbidden Creatures: Inside the World of Animal Smuggling, and The Dangerous World of Butterflies. He reported for NBC and CBS radio around the world, and wrote and produced several documentaries as an NBC news correspondent, winning the George Polk Award for his study of Americans incarcerated overseas. He is the James Wallace Chair in the School of Journalism and Communications at the University of Oregon in Eugene. To learn more, visit his website here

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