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A No-Nonsense, Minimalist Approach To News

Minimalists and others who prefer simple living to a complicated life try not to waste time by focusing their attention on things that aren’t important. But does news fall into the category of mental clutter or brain-enhancing self-improvement?

News reports create a shared experience among people. If you’re up on the news, you have something to talk about.

News is also important because reporters hold politicians, businesspeople and others accountable. It may not be important for you to know what a reporter finds out but knowing that a nosy stringer is snooping around helps keep some processes honest.

And this is something I know about.

My degree is in communication with an emphasis in broadcast management, and I worked as a freelance print reporter for a decade. Although I never worked in radio or television (except an internship in public affairs at a TV station), I know how print, broadcast and newer media slant stories differently to hook consumers.

And minimalists, I would think, should be resistant to being hooked by anything.

Here are five facts that might help you decide how much news you want to consume:

1. You don’t need to know as much as you think you do.

Most of the stories on CNN’s homepage and the evening news are useless to you. While it may be interesting that a Hollywood celebrity is expecting a child, it doesn’t matter to you.

Even the day-to-day process of electing your country’s leader isn’t important. All you need to know is who wins, and you only need to know that if you want to have a conversation with anyone the next morning.

2. If you need to know, you don’t need to know as much as you think you do.

To write a story, journalists try to find out WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and WHY — and often HOW. Quotes from grieving relatives, market analysts and company public relations people add very little information. They’re intended to make stories more appealing to the masses.

If you understand the 5 Ws and the H of a story, you know all the facts and can move on.

3. You can stay informed by catching up on headlines while your body is doing something else.

Reading the news on a desktop PC is usually an all-consuming process. Reading it on your smart phone while waiting for an appointment is a valid way to occupy your mind while your body is attending to the waiting.

In one phase of my life, I turned on the end of the local TV news and the beginning of NBC Nightly News while I was cooking dinner. I learned a few things while sautéing — or more likely reheating. A quick radio news break might be a good thing while driving alone.

4. Local news is less important than you think.

Local TV newscasts and newspapers seem, at first thought, to be more important than national news. They report about things happening near you.

But look again. Do you need to know that a house burned 20 miles away during a thunderstorm that’s now long past? Does it matter that a nearby city is considering allowing alcohol sales when your city already does — or doesn’t?

A glance of local headlines will tell you if anything is happening that applies to you. If not, watch or read the local news for amusement or recreation, if you want, but not for useful information.

5. You must explore some stories in depth.

Of course, exploring some stories in depth is mandatory. Yes, mandatory. You can’t protest an injustice, contribute to a worthy cause or even satisfy curiosity without getting inside a story once in a while.

News is information about other inhabitants of the planet — or the possibility that there might be inhabitants elsewhere. It explores the systems in which you once participated. It links you with causes and cases you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

So go ahead: Take a few minutes, when you must, and explore the news. But consider it a product like any other — one that can consume you while you’re consuming it.

Then, step away. Come back to the stories that compel you to act — and skip over the ones that don’t matter.


  1. Amen to this! I scan the list of daily news items for my community in the online version of the local paper, just so nothing catches me by surprise, like a street closed for construction or if there is a local crime wave. Apart from that, I only pay the most cursory attention to the national and world news. Anything else would drive me into depression, I think.

  2. In regards to the news, I read new online and mainly the headlines. I find that a lot of what is on the news is negative (wars, problems, drugs, killing etc…) If it something interesting about improving one’s health, for example, then yes. By reading the headlines, I make sure that I know what is going on with the world. Thanks for sharing Gip

  3. Gip, I am of the firm belief that the local news is quite possible the worst use of my time I can imagine. First, it is depressing. Second, I don’t need to know about the traffic (I live in Atlanta, there is always traffic). Third, I can poke my head out the window for weather (again, Atlanta, always carry an umbrella).

    On the whole, I can’t think of one instance where anything I saw there made me any better at anything.

    You can probably tell this is a hot button for me, sorry for the long comment!

  4. Hi Gip, I hope you are well.
    I don’t watch news anymore, I just find it is depressing, timewasting and serves me no useful purpose. Of course I don’t want to be completely ignorant so I might scan over the heeadlines on BBC or similar, but it is very rare I fully read the stories……most of them are so negative I find it saps my energy as well as time,

  5. Gip, The only news I watch is by accident, and since I’ve canceled cable, I am hoping that won’t happen anymore!

    If there is big news going on, someone tells me. If I do see or hear about something that I genuinely interested in or feel the need to be informed about, I will pay attention. Otherwise, I am tuned out of the news and into what matters.

    Great post!

  6. It’s interesting that I don’t find the news depressing, just useless. Most things happening in the world are good. A few are less good and get some attention.

    I don’t wear glasses, but I guess they would be rose-colored if I did… Sorry, I couldn’t think of anything better to say!

    Thanks to all who have commented so far!


  7. Hi Gip, This post (and the comments) really interest me for several reasons. One is that you have great credibility in this area, so I’m curious about your opinion.
    Another is that the commenters indicate little interest in the news bcause it has no purpose or is negative or depressing

    When it comes to the local news, I completely agree. Most of the local news doesn’t matter much to me, and I don’t need to read long stories about a man getting out of prison, going to an ex-girl-friend’s place, killing her, hacking up her body, and disposing of the pieces here and there. (Seattle Times, late-2009 or early-2010)

    On the other hand, much of the national news is very significant to me. Examples are the recent, protracted, and ugly debate about health care and the current early discussion about changes to Social Security. I follow these and other developments because they concern me personally, because I blog about aging and they are pertinent, and, I guess, because I just want to know.

    I offer this, respectfully, as a different view. I’m a big believer in polite discourse and exchange of views, and your blog seems like a great place for that.

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