News detox: Reddit and relapsing

Reddit is a social news aggregator. But can it function as the main source of news? Can provide broad and balanced coverage of what is happening in the world?

I recently set out the problems of modern consumption news (instant online news and the 24 hour news cycle), suggested news detox as a way of breaking free from this, and reported on my experience of new detoxing for a month. My long term goal however has not been cut out news altogether but find a healthier way of consuming news, to keep informed in a reasonably balanced way on issues that may impact my life, without wasting time reading about minutiae. I set out on a year of news detox and experimentation, where each month, I experiment with a different way of keeping up to date.

Reddit as a news source

Over the last month I’ve been using Reddit for news. I checked it once a week or so, looking at the top stories of the week on some relevant subreddits (topics). Reddit is not a direct source of news, but functions as a social news aggregator where users can post links to articles from other sites. Reddit can be fantastic for specialist topics where you may not find dedicated news publications, but would it work effectively for general news?

I chose three subreddits to keep me informed:

  • /r/worldnews – this is a popular subreddit covering everything outside of US internal news/politics
  • /r/ukpolitics – this covers politics in the UK
  • /r/unitedkingdom – this covers anything in the UK. It is not exclusively news but tends to mainly be.

Reddit certainly gave me some idea of the week’s events, but it was not a well-rounded and balanced view. The coverage was not well-rounded: many important stories were not picked up. For example, I know that in the last week a UN report highlighted poverty within the UK, but this did not make it into the top posts on the UK-related subreddits. They were mostly dominated by Brexit-related stories, or links to tweets.

Neither was the coverage balanced: for example, although there was a huge amount of coverage on Brexit, the way it was covered reflected the demographics of Reddit. Redditors are likely to be young, and it is well known that young people tended to vote against Brexit. So the most upvoted posts were those that support and confirm the view that Brexit is a mistake and should be reversed. Reddit subreddits feel very much an echo chamber. There will sometimes be someone expressing different views, but the point system seems to discourage debate because someone with opposing views is likely to be voted down (or at least not voted up much).

Top posts from the last month on the /r/ukpolitics subreddit.

I tried one technique to find a wider range of viewpoints. Instead of looking at the “top” posts of the week I could look at the most “controversial” of the week: posts that were both upvoted many times and downvoted many times. This did show some alternative stories, but in many cases they were controversial because they were sensationalist rather than because they provided an alternative viewpoint.

All-in-all the Reddit news experiment was not a success. In addition to the lack of well-rounded and balanced news coverage, it’s a time sink. It’s all too easy to get drawn into reading the comments or lost down a rabbit-hole of links.

Over the next month I will be going back to a mainstream news source with traditional editorial, but not on a daily basis. I have a trial subscription to The Week, a weekly magazine offering “the best of British & international news, opinion, sport, people, and business”. My hope is that this will offer the well-rounded and balanced coverage that a social news site lacks.

Relapsing

I’ve been seeking to stop consuming news on a daily basis, because that level of detail generally doesn’t add to my life, even though on some level I find it interesting. When not much appears to be happening in the world, it is easy to tune out from the news.

But over the past couple of weeks in the UK quite a lot has happened. The proposed deal for Brexit was revealed, it has been almost universally criticised from all sides, and it seems the Prime Minister could be kicked out at any time. I was drawn into this, thinking that I was about to see the Prime Minister resign and not wanting to look away whilst it happened. But this has been going on for around 10 days yet nothing significant has happened, and I’m still following the day-to-day.

Although it is a captivating narrative, on reflection it has not been worth my time and attention. Yes, I’ll need to make a decision if it comes to an election, but I don’t need to follow the day-to-day events, particularly the “live streams” on every news website. So over the next month I will again stop reading the news on a daily basis, but catch up on a weekly basis reading The Week.

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