My reaction on first seeing copies of Rolf Dobelli’s Stop Reading The News was a mix of fear and excitement.
At the time, I was coming to the end of writing my own book about the news, Bad News: what the headlines don’t tell us. Fear, then, that another book would have pre-empted me and excitement that a book on a similar topic was piled up on a table at the front of a Waterstones. Very few printed books make it into a bookshop, let alone into piles at the front of a mainstream one. Hope therefore that perhaps if Dobelli’s book could manage this, so could mine…
Although we both write about the news from a common starting point – that the way in which news is put together, and indeed the very definition of what counts as ‘news’, makes reading the news a poor way to understand the world – we then depart in two rather different directions.
For me, the lesson from this is to get smarter at understanding the news, such as how not to be misled by headlines. For Dobelli, the lesson is to stop reading the news.
Dobelli dissects many of the failings of the news with a cheerful invective that makes for both a pleasant and persuasive read. In making his case eloquently and forcefully, he points out how, for example, the long-term trends which really shape our lives are rarely to be found in the news itself.
Where I find his arguments less convincing are on two grounds. First, one of his arguments for stopping reading the news is that your friends and colleagues will eventually mention anything really important anyway. Telling us to stop doing something because we can rely on others continuing to do it isn’t an argument that scales up to improving our society. It’s self-improvement, not social improvement.
Second, Dobelli paints a very narrowly self-centred set of reasons as to why you might want to know what is going on in the world. His criteria for judging the benefits of reading the news is all about what will directly make your own life more successful. Ideas such as that you should read the news in order to be better informed about how to cast a vote in a democracy don’t get a look in.
Even so, it’s an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.