We interrupt your life to bring you … stuff that shouldn’t interrupt your life.
This morning I did something that was so simple, so painless, so easy to do, I nearly dropped my iPhone into the toilet after doing it.
It was something that just a few months ago was the lifeline to my job and career. But now, it was just plain distracting and annoying.
The crying sound of wolves had gotten too much for this journalist-turned-layperson-turned-picky-consumer-of-news.
And so, I went into every news app I had previously downloaded into my iPhone, and opted myself out of their news alerts.
My initial choice had been to fling my iPhone into the alligator-friendly lake behind my house, but I feared for the gators’ well-being should one swallow my phone whole and have to suffer through news alert after news alert. It just seemed cruel.
The knee-jerk reaction to reach for my phone every time I heard a ding, indicating that something more important than whatever I was doing was happening, had started to wear thin on me.
Frankly, I was tired of hearing that sound every time “news broke,” which was pretty much all the time. Except 99.9% of the time it wasn’t really news that demanded my immediate attention, and my life could go on without being affected by it at all.
For example, just because someone who had been on the run from police in Miami for 5 years had been caught in Georgia was not that big a deal. And yet, these were the types of alerts the local news stations in South Florida were sending out.
Most of the time, I would read the alert and think … I don’t care. This doesn’t matter.
If I was with another person, I would ask if it mattered to them and they would give me a look that said … “Barb, why do you think I unsubscribed from the alerts you used to send out when you were working in news?”
Furthermore, because of the number of characters to which news alerts are limited, what I saw on the screen was either incomplete, confusing, or made no sense at all. (See example at the top of this article.)
You might think this is a ploy to make you click through to the story. (Tease readers with a weird or incomplete headline so they will have to open the article to find out what it’s about.) But that’s not the case.
Contrary what someone who owns a large building overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Beach County might tell you, news editors don’t conspire to trick readers or mislead their audiences. (OK, maybe some do, but this is the exception, not the rule.)
In the majority of cases, bad news alerts are simply the frantic writing of a digital editor rushing to be first to send out the alert, before committing the mortal sin of allowing a competing news organization to beat them to it.
Thursday afternoon, one of the local television stations in South Florida sent out three news alerts within a 5-minute interval. I’d had enough. I made a pact with myself to get my life and my priorities back in order.
I accepted that if Armaggedon was imminent, a phone call from my mom would let me know faster than any news alert ever could. And if a nuclear bomb was heading my way, I’d rather not know. Dying on impact was a much better option.
Yet for someone who had spent the better part of the last few years working as a digital news journalist — sending out news alerts and encouraging others to subscribe to them — I was amazed at how easy it was for me to let them go.
I’ve been away from a traditional newsroom for nearly seven months now. Seeing news from the receiving end of the smart phone screen has shown me how much of what newsrooms call news really isn’t.
Those of you who follow my blog and articles know how passionate I am about journalism. And although I’ve been hesitant to criticize those who I know from experience work their butts off to bring you the news each day, I also feel it’s my responsibility — my purpose — to do everything I can to keep the profession which I love from continuing its plunge into obsolescence.
My fellow journalists, please stop the madness!
Please stop sending out news alerts every time someone in the newsroom stands up and starts flailing their arms uncontrollably because “news” is breaking.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
“If I didn’t work in a newsroom, would this alert matter to me?”
I know the challenges you face. Your boss thinks it matters. And so you pick your battles and comply with his or her definition of news.
But unless you’re courageous enough to “just say no” to news alert nonsense, our industry will continue to decline into the frenzy of fake news in which it currently finds itself.
Be responsible. Take a risk. For crying out loud, be a journalist.
Treat news alerts with the same caution that the networks use to break into programming with Special Reports.
It begins with you.
Your audience has already figured out the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. It’s time you did too.