When citizens do not know that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are one in the same thing, and when they persist in the belief that Anthony Weiner had something to do with Hillary Clinton’s emails, it is time to re-evaluate how we receive and process current events. Perhaps you have heard of Slow Food, an international grassroots movement that began in Italy in opposition to the detrimental effects of fast food on health and culinary traditions. The Slow Food movement advocates for a return to time-honored culinary practices and insists on the use of high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. Slow Food International characterizes its approach to food as being guided by three interconnected principles: the food that we produce and eat should be good, clean and fair. I believe it is time to call for a similar movement in how we produce and consume the news: it is time for a Slow News movement for information that is good, clean and fair.
Personalized newsfeeds do a good job of connecting you with some events that are happening at this very moment. Unfortunately, they do not offer a breadth of coverage—unless there happens to be a crisis, you are unlikely to learn what is going on in Honduras, Finland or Senegal. Nor will you receive any in-depth analysis or nuanced coverage by simply consulting your newsfeed and clicking on articles, reading a few lines until something else grabs your attention.
This election cycle has made it disturbingly apparent that few of us bother to read beyond the headlines. What is worse, we are no longer attentive to the factual basis of what we read. This is partly due to information overload: we are bombarded nonstop with screaming captions advertising the latest outrage or scandal. These same messages appear on our smartphones, tablets and cable news, and they are designed to get our attention. They are not, however, intended to move us to analyze, ask questions, or seek solutions.
Consider reading print media and subscribing to local news sources as a way to stem this dangerous slide away from fact and towards sensationalism. Now more than ever, we need principled, dedicated journalists who work tenaciously to bring us the bare facts. We need to support these journalists on the national and international levels but also at the local levels. As former Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill was fond of saying, “all politics is local.” The disparity between the results of the popular vote and the Electoral College indicate that Speaker O’Neill had a point.
In addition to competent investigative journalists, we also need commentators who can take large amounts of information and synthesize it for us in ways that are accurate and fair. Opinion writers get a bad rap these days, but we need competent opinion writers on the right, the left and especially in the center to inspire and provoke us. Make it a point to read an array of columnists’ takes on important issues. It is vital that we spend time engaging with opinions that run counter to our own if we ever hope to return to a climate of compromise.
Imagine what a Slow News movement might achieve. Slow Food appeals to your acknowledgement that fast food isn’t good for you. Instead of stopping at the countless fast food restaurants you pass each day, you stop at a locally owned place that serves healthy, locally grown food. You know and trust the owner of the establishment, and you know s/he has your health and best interests at heart. Better yet, you go buy the healthy ingredients yourself and make a delicious, healthy, balanced meal in your own kitchen.
The same can be done with the news. Drive right past the headlines and look to respected journalists and opinion writers who offer substance over flash. After carefully selecting the sources you trust, go home and rethink the news for yourself. Don’t be afraid to try new ingredients and new flavors, just as you would in cooking. There are excellent daily and weekly periodicals for you to consult, and the news you get from them will be significantly better scrutinized than the latest viral post. Finally, don’t neglect to consult foreign press: if Thai, Indian or Mexican cuisines have enhanced your dining experience, think how gaining an international perspective might enrich your take on current events. With Slow News, we can take our time digesting a balanced diet of information, rich in diverse, high quality ingredients. Our health and the health of our country will be better for it.