Why I Stopped Reading National News

A 200-year-old newspaper helped me figure out why modern news is stoking irrational fear and anxiety

Michael Easter

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An Early Copy of Benjamin Day’s New York Sun / Credit: Library of Congress

Last week I was hunting in Utah with people who work in media, entertainment, and business. Half the fun of hunting is camp, where people come together in the afternoon and at night to sit around and shoot the shit. Cell phones don’t have service. There’s no TV or computers. Just conversation.

We all got talking about the state of the world and someone started rambling on about some perceived injustice in Washington DC. People began piping in and getting worked up. Neck veins began bulging.

I said nothing. Neither did another guy, a brilliant businessman who founded a gear company that’s completely changing the face of hunting.

He and I exchanged that knowing glance. We both had zero clue what the hell these people were talking about. Turns out we’d both stopped watching national news within the last few months.

Your Brain On News

The human brain is wired to crave information that offers a survival benefit. Think: Information that hints at danger or centers on wrongdoings. This is because humans evolved in an unsafe and uncomfortable world — focusing on potential dangers helped us avoid death.

But the world is now safe and comfortable, and much of this old machinery backfires. Constantly obeying our ancient drive to focus on the negative can make us miserable.

If it seems like the news is negative, that’s because it … is. Most estimates suggest that about 90 percent of news is negative. A recent study found that even brief exposure to this negative stuff has emotional consequences.

How We Got Here

It happened like this: In the 1800s, a dude named Benjamin Day had this idea to get rich. Newspapers at the time covered erudite and boring topics like business and politics. These papers were also expensive, at six cents a copy, which meant that only the rich could afford them.

Day planned to sell his newspaper for one cent, which put it in the price range of the masses. But by selling that low he couldn’t cover his costs.

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Michael Easter

Author of The Comfort Crisis // Professor // Writing about physical + mental health, psychology, and living better 1x week // eastermichael.com