The Russian invasion of Ukraine. Flooding in India and Bangladesh. Protests and civil unrest in Iran. Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. You might be wondering what all of these horrific events have in common, and the answer — as it often is these days — is American media.
In this country, violent attacks, climate disasters and social injustice do not receive the kind of consistent media coverage required to keep the public informed, and are often reduced to flashy, fleeting headlines when they do enter the American conscience.
This approach helps media outlets garner clicks and views (using shock value and clickbait to increase readership), but also helps them stay afloat in the increasingly competitive environment that is online media coverage.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok are a significant source of news for 49% of American adults.
However, since social media algorithms follow a very rigid rotation of “trending topics,” American users have grown used to talking about and keeping an eye on tragic world events as they happen — but only in short, concentrated amounts.
As a result, coverage of events like that of the Turkey-Syria earthquake and the Mahsa Amini protests in Iran only leave semi-visible marks on the American conscience as newer, more “pressing” coverage enters the social media sphere in its place.
Further, because American media favors coverage of the more shocking, eye-catching stories and events happening around the world, many Americans struggle to digest this content in a healthy way.
According to an article from One Medical, “negative news can … affect mood and lead to feelings of hopelessness, anger, and fear.”
On more than one occasion, I have found myself faced with similar feelings, only to be expected to continue on with my day after learning that tens of thousands of people were found dead in the rubble of a devastating earthquake in Syria and Turkey, or that seven million people were displaced following a series of catastrophic floods in India and Bangladesh.
Being constantly bombarded with startling headlines and social media posts has pushed me to delete apps more than once, usually in an effort to get through the week without having some sort of mental breakdown.
In an article for the Washington Post, Heather Kelly writes that “It can be hard to look away from your phone and live your life while terrible events are unfolding.”
I believe that America’s “assembly line” approach to news coverage only makes this issue worse, as unplugging from social media and online news outlets for even one week can render people grossly misinformed on issues or events that matter a great deal to them.
Unfortunately, staying constantly (or even partially) plugged in can also lead to unwanted consequences. According to a study from the American Psychological Association, increased stress, insomnia and depression are all common symptoms of “media overload,” a side effect of media consumption where troubling news starts negatively impacting your overall health and wellbeing.
While I would argue that consuming news is vital to one’s social and political awareness, American media takes news coverage to the extreme — opting in favor of treating huge, tragic world issues and events like passing trends rather than real, lived parts of our human history.
As a student journalist, I believe that it is our job to do what we can to stay consistently informed. That said, I am not sure whether or not the culture of overproduction and overconsumption that online media has created can be successfully undone.
Instead, I urge you to practice more mindful news consumption. Avoid giving in to the “assembly line” nature of American media. Rather than abandoning causes or stories that matter to you as soon as the next “big” event comes along, try staying consistently informed instead.
Focus your attention on areas or issues that can be more easily and repeatedly digested, working toward consuming news in small amounts rather than constantly and all at once. Keeping your primary focus on local concerns and events can also create a healthier relationship between the media you consume and your longterm mental health.
The nature of American media is to grab your attention, and retain your focus through shock value and stress-induced adrenaline — so allow yourself to process and digest the horrible news you see online, whether it be a lengthy article from the New York Times or a troubling photo you see on Instagram.