Amanda Ripley on Repairing the News Media

New York Times bestselling author and journalist Amanda Ripley thinks the way news is reported needs to change.

Last year she wrote the book High Conflict – Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out of It. She also hosts the “How To” problem-solving podcast for Slate Magazine.

She even stopped reading the news for a while, she told Jim Mora

Amanda Ripley
Photo: provided

“Much of the way my fellow journalists and I have been trained and taught to think about news and how we frame it is out of step with what we know about human psychology and what that people need in the modern age to thrive and make good decisions.

She found that the news was starting to have a negative impact on her mental health.

“Slowly, about five or six years ago, I started to feel worse after reading the news, I started to feel less curious. And I felt like I could watch the headlines. and knowing what the story was going to say a good deal of the time.

“And then I would kind of be paralyzed with despair more often than I wanted to admit. And that was really annoying. Because historically I spent 20 years as a journalist covering crime and terrorism and disasters and political violence, all kinds of human miseries.

“And so, I just wasn’t used to feeling so bothered by news.”

There is growing evidence that people are avoiding the news, she says.

“News has become like an aerosol, it’s in every aspect of life. You can’t avoid it, it’s in your pocket. It’s in your text messages. It’s everywhere.

“And so, it’s harder to keep it in its proper place. And you can kind of feel ambushed, just when you’re enjoying your day, you come around the corner and bam, you get caught up with a terrible, excruciating story.

And journalists are caught in an “evil feedback loop”, she says.

“I think a lot of journalists here feel powerless in a way that maybe they didn’t have 10 or 15 years ago, that no matter how much reporting they do, that half the country don’t believe they are telling the truth.

“And so, in the face of that kind of helplessness, sometimes that reaction, which is understandable, is to become louder, more convinced and more strident. And that leads to more people becoming disconnected.

There are other ways to tell stories, she believes.

“Every story I covered; whether it’s gang violence, the war in Colombia, or hurricanes in the United States, there are always examples of free will, of humans coming together and trying to make things better. And they don’t always succeed, and it’s never perfect.

“But these stories are often overlooked, I quote without quotes, news.”

The data in the United States is grim reading for journalists, she said.

“We know from a new Reuters Institute study released last month that 42% of Americans sometimes or often actively avoid the news, which is higher than in about 30 other countries.”

The main reason people avoid the news is quite simple, she says.

“People avoid the news because it makes them feel bad. Like anything else, if it makes you feel bad, eventually you stop looking for it and start trying to avoid it.

A negativity bias in the media fuels this, she says.

“Reporters will say, look, the negativity is clickable. This is how we get people’s attention. It’s the business model, what do you want to do? But I actually think that a smaller and smaller number of people are clicking on these stories more and more.

We’re also not equipped for news saturation, she says.

“Krista Tippett, who is a journalist and radio show host here, says: I don’t think we are physiologically or mentally equipped to receive catastrophic and confusing news and images 24/7. And then she says, “we are analog creatures in a digital world.”

Ripley thinks there is an alternative.

“You can still do rigorous reporting on big, complex issues, but include right next to outrage examples of agency hope and dignity.

“And these things exist, and we need them. We now know that humans need hope, just as we need food and water to get up in the morning and turn anger and outrage into action.

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