Turn Off The News (Sometimes)

selective focus photography of magazines

It’s been a pretty horrendous week of news. In the UK, there is the ongoing search for Nicola Bulley, the murder of Epsom college’s head teacher Emma Pattison and her daughter Lettie, assumed to be by her husband who also took his own life, and the imprisonment of a former Met police officer for a litany of sex crimes. 

Abroad, there are the unfathomable consequences of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. The death toll is so high it is almost impossible to process. The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, a fact brought starkly back into the spotlight by President Zelensky’s visit to the UK and other western European nations. There are other issues in a similar vein, but that is more than enough for an opening couple of paragraphs.

The fallout for those involved in the above is horrendous. It is not comparable but reading and hearing about it does take a toll on all of us. Media organisations send push alerts, the headlines blare on the front pages, hourly news bulletins compress each terrible incident into just a few minutes. It can sometimes feel like nothing good is happening in the world. For those of us lucky enough to not be directly affected by any of these stories, it is periodcally worth taking a step back and shutting out the news.

I know. As a journalist that should be the last thing I say. The more news the better, right? Well, no. Not every story demands equal attention, but the way they are delivered to us suggests the opposite. Even when things are significant, dealing with it all at once can sometimes be too much. Turning off the alerts and the bulletins gives news consumers a better chance of putting things in proportion and being able to handle the next big set of stories. Such a deluge is bad for everyone’s mental health.

This includes the reporters who bring us these stories. Here is what the Times’s crime and security editor, Fiona Hamilton has had to deal with this week:

She’s an accomplished and experienced journalist. I am certain she wouldn’t want anything approaching sympathy. Nonetheless, dealing with all of that must be draining. I know journalists don’t tend to be held in high regard, but those that do the kind of work Hamilton does are essential. We should bear in mind the kind of toll it might take on them, even if just in the short term. 

None of us, obviously, can control the news or how and when it happens. I appreciate the luxury of being able to shut it out sometimes. But if we can, we should.

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