“I’ve never understood people who watch CNN all day long.”
This was said by someone in a discussion I saw happening on App.net recently. Later on, the same person diagnosed the types of people who do this. News junkies, he called them.
I smiled when I saw it. Hello, my name is Anna Tarkov and I am a recovering news junkie. Though I’ve long shunned TV news as a means of getting my fix (as is fashionable for all news snobs), I abused Twitter and various websites for years. Given my chosen career path, it’s hardly surprising.
In the world of journalism and media in general, it is assumed that you are a news junkie. Reporters, broadcasters, web editors, etc work with news all day long so if you weren’t a news junkie when you got into the business, you’re very likely to become one. Everyone who has worked in the industry knows the feeling. The rush of a fresh, new story is intoxicating. SOMETHING IS HAPPENING, your mind screams and you have to find out all the facts and report them.
Being a passive consumer of news is very similar. A story breaks and suddenly you want to know everything about it and follow all the developments.
For many, news is not a recreational drug. It is highly addictive. And like any addiction, it takes increasingly higher doses to get high. So you start out innocently enough, checking news sites, blogs or Twitter a few times a day or turning on the TV here and there. But pretty soon you’re glued to the computer and/or TV screen, terrified of missing something. The symptoms of your addiction are both predictable and strange all at once. For instance, you begin to delight in being the first to know about a story.
“Did you hear about the earthquake in Indonesia?” you ask your coworker. They reply that they haven’t and you proceed to smugly give them all the details. In essense, you are reporting the story to them, the same as a journalist would report it to their audience. You are telling them something new, something they don’t already know. It’s exhilarating, isn’t it, being the first to tell someone something? This is precisely what gets many people into the news business. That feeling of telling people what they don’t already know is so satisfying that we accept pathetic salaries, crazy work hours and all sorts of indignities in order to keep doing it.
These days of course, you don’t have to be employed by a news organization to feel like you have a captive audience who needs and wants to hear from you. If you have a popular blog or Tumblr or lots of followers on Twitter (or all of the above and more), you can be a one-woman newsroom. You know what your audience wants and you enjoy giving it to them. They look to YOU for information, perspective and context. It’s a dizzying feeling of power. You have become something greater than a junkie. You are now the dealer.
I still remember the moments when people said they were paying attention to MY Twitter feed for curation on an important story that was then developing. It felt like I was holding the world in the palm of my hand.
Having now gained some distance from those days, I can categorically say my life is better this way. I don’t know about every story, I don’t know what the latest Twitter war is about, I don’t know about the controversy du jour and I don’t care.
Like all former addicts, I may always have to watch myself to make sure I don’t backslide, but I’m fairly certain I won’t. The reason is that I have gained so much by kicking my addiction. I have gained focus for the things that really matter. I now have deep, nuanced conversations about important topics that go beyond the headlines. I have time to work on things I truly care about. More than anything, I have much greater peace of mind. You didn’t think it was a coincidence that journalists drink, did you?
So if you’re reading this while feverishly scanning Twitter or glazed over from five straight hours of cable news, I have a message for you. There is a life beyond your addiction. Come live it with me.