How do you consume digital journalism?

Hi there,

For a while I’ve been trying to overhaul my “information diet.” I want to be well informed but I don’t want to get drawn down the rabbit hole of links (and the junky media that sits behind those links) that most consumption experiences promote.

For traditional news, I could get a daily newspaper (the old school sort, made of paper) but there is a lot of great great writing online that can only be consumed digitally.

How do people here nurture productive, non-addictive relationships with digital written content? Are people generally happy with their methods, or searching for something better?

Disclaimer / context: I have been working on a professional project – not yet launched – that is trying to tackle this a bit. We’ve spent most of our energy thinking about healthier incentives for publishers/writers (consumer subscription dollars replacing ads) and recently I’ve been really trying to figure out this other side of the coin.

I’m interested in your post and your project mainly because I’ve concluded that consuming journalism digitally is almost always net negative for me - the only method that works for me is to limit myself to sites that either are membership-based forums like this one (and another community I’m a part of )- nonprofit, no ads, no surveillance capitalism manipulation - or to look at journalism that stays completely away from ‘breaking news’ culture. I will look at what ProPublica is up to, for example. Even though I respect some investigative journalists at the Washington Post, NY Times and The Guardian tremendously I find the sites and the business models and how that creates an experience to be harmful to well-being. Needless to say I don’t involve myself with anything that includes a ‘news feed.’ I support, read and donate to nonprofit investigative journalism, but I am very mindful of where I find it and how much time I give it. I don’t know if that’s helpful - for what it’s worth.

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For the most I might scan Apple news once per day and only because I do a weekly news topical cartoon, so it’s part of my creative research. I scan headlines and rarely get drawn into the article. I did an exercise last year where I captured 3 headlines every day for 365 days and save those to a Pinterest board. What did I learn? Most headlines are click bait (duh) of course they are. It was awful watching that every day. Anyway 2nd favourite place for reading without ads is Love it there.
Hope that helps. Best, M

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That is helpful.

One of my recent hypotheses is that (paid or at least member supported) email newsletters are actually a pretty good format. Assuming they don’t just point off to other loud and ad-cluttered spaces, it’s a relatively focused place to read. And I’m naturally inclined to be picky because I’m giving them a key to the sacred space of my inbox. Also, because it is delivered to me, it satisfies my info appetite without me needing to navigate to a feed. I also think more and more excellent writers are starting to experiment with paid newsletters.

Net of that is that we’re experimenting the idea of helping these aforementioned writers reach a paying audience. We’re working on a protocol that would allow them to join a network of paid newsletters that subscribers could opt into after paying a single upfront monthly subscription fee (somewhere in the $10-15 range).

I’d definitely love to hear whether that strikes a chord for you. Email can be so divisive!

Yeah, I like Medium too. Though as the network has grown I’ve felt like more and more of the stuff that it really wants me to click (the email promos and the “read next” are more likely to be click bait-y or just not great quality). Ads aren’t the incentive but I guess claps and influence are?

Authors get paid according to how many positive responses they receive. That’s why you are encouraged to like their articles.

I stick to the digital versions of the traditional media. At the moment I have an all-digital access NYTimes subscription, which I am very happy with. The NYTimes app sends me a daily morning briefing with the most important news in an unbiased format. I really appreciate their investigative journalism though, as this is something not often found on sites like Medium.
That being said, while I enjoy Medium from time to time, I don’t find that much variety in the articles there. Many are self-improvement articles or personal stories, not so much serious journalism. Medium feels more like a collection of blog posts to me - that kind of digital content that I would actually like to avoid.

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A wise person once said that the news is the farthest thing from reality.

If you want to understand truth, you need to understand that the news does not represent reality and to take it in small portions from select outlets. The problem is complex:

  • Original news sources themselves are far and few between, so media rely on “official” sources such as governments, agencies and corporations and these themselves are very often releasing “spin” also more accurately known as fake news or propaganda. Often times there are not many witnesses to a news event, and most witnesses will stay silent out of convenience. When there is a real witness telling the truth, the witness will often barely be heard or trusted compared to the “official” source of information.
  • Journalists and other media are part of the attention economy, so they are more interested in getting your attention than anything else so that they can sell ads, track you (surveillance of you for profit) and sell you subscriptions. Truth is boring, who cares about that pesky war / crimes in who-ever-heard of that place? Better to sensationalise and hype 1000x over popular topics (Trump, Brexit, sexual abuse, etc.) in country with high ad revenue per capita (USA) than to post important news.
  • Since there are so few actual real sources of information, most “news articles” are actually just “echo chambers” – that is an article written in response to another article written about another article written about another article. The actual original “source facts” (which may have been originally true or false) are so far down the chain that they’re often distorted or lost entirely. Often times some news eventually becomes complete “fiction”.
  • Journalists often have strong ulterior motives such as pushing their own or their news outlet’s political beliefs. This is true of even the highest quality news outlets.
  • Journalists often are not qualified to write about the subject which they’re writing about. Often times they can write but can’t think, so garbage in, garbage out. All that matters is that they write something, so you can consume something and they get paid. Quantity and low cost rules over quality.

Hm, yeah. Many of those points resonate with me. I’m curious about something you mention on bullet #2: chasing subscription dollars is not all that different from chasing ad dollars (impressions & private data). I’d like to think that our subscription decisions happen a little higher on the brain stem so to speak. Whereas, despite my strongly held beliefs about the value of my attention, I might be tempted into clicking on a junky Kardasian story in a feed, I would not become a paying subscriber to that publications. In other words, if we shift economic incentives away from ads and towards gaining paying subscribers, would that not dramatically change the quality of the journalism?

In any case, is the net of all this that you just avoid anything that looks like news or journalism?

Thanks for your thoughts!

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Thanks for those thoughts, John!

Hi @beah, no I do spend maybe an hour total a week reading news and articles. I’m just careful which ones.

Yes I agree that you’re right, people will subscribe only if the quality is higher.

Not only that but many free ad-supported services such as YouTube and Facebook rely heavily on illegal pirated content (uploaded by users), so the creators never get paid.

But on the other hand there are many wonderful things about free ad-supported services. Anyone can use them. And there are some things people will never pay for, especially services / websites / apps they might only need to use once.

@khkey I’m wondering why you say that he business model of traditional news outlets such as the Washington Post and the New York Times have a business model that is harmful to well-being. As a NYTimes subscriber, I don’t see any of the things that we commonly ascribe to the “attention economy”. Headlines are rarely attention grabbing beyond the actual content of the news, and the NYTimes app for example is very unintrusive - I get a daily briefing and that is about it.
Content-wise, I don’t see how they differ much from their print versions.

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I was a NY TImes reader and subscriber for over 30 years, switching to a digital subscrpiont some years ago, and cancelled it about 18 months ago. Although they do amazing investigative journalism, they continue to cover the president’s minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day efforts to draw our attention away from what his administration is really doing and the remarkable revelations about the centrality of money laundering for Russian and Baltic state oligarchs to his business - and the role of the FSB in the 2016 election. It is irresponsible to continue to cover the president’s twitter account as news - but the latest inflammatory and divisive statements draws eyes back to the page all day, compulsively - and that is algorhythmic capitalism. I realize the NY Times needs to survive and have the funds to do investigative journalism, but the compromises they’ve made to keep eyeballs on the page are way too many for me.


Hi @beah - I use Feedly. I am in a constant process of refining my sources. When bullshit things come on my feed that don’t seem legit, I keep an eye on the sources and constant prune. As a result I’ve found key feeds that align with me and key feeds that challenge me. I have naturally gravitated to foreign news sources about north america (bbc, al jazeera english) and local news sources about the rest of the world.

Of course, I read everything with a grain of salt knowing the weakness of journalism, but my philosophy is that if I totally disengage from what’s going on in the world, the propagandists have won. So I try my best to piece together some sense of what’s happening, but I reserve judgment and try not to believe anything outright at face value.

PS your project sounds really interesting, if you need UX/UI/PM support, let me know! :slight_smile:

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It’s interesting to read the responses here. As some people here know, I’ve been doing some work with CHT, and simultaneously, much of my history is in media/journalism.

In this post I am not speaking for CHT at all, I’m just speaking from my own history.

About 3.5 years ago, I wrote this article about trying to dodge clickbait and improve my media habits:

The article is a bit out of to date at this point (e.g., I no longer read LAUNCH as much as I used to, and the country wasn’t nearly as polarized when I wrote that piece – I think a lot of media is suffering from our polarized context). But I think many of the points are still sound. It’s extremely hard to make sure you’re reading reasonable stuff, and harder all the time. On a personal level, this problem is really hard to solve.

On a structural level… it’s still a hard problem to solve :slight_smile: In my experience, most professional journalists at major outlets are genuinely idealistic and are in the profession partly because they really care about truth, beauty, and so on. But there are indeed bad incentives in many places, some more than others. In 2015-2016, I worked with News Deeply (where I am still an advisor), a small journalism company that’s trying to solve this problem from a journalistic perspective. It may be worth tracking their progress if you’re interested in the development of better journalism. The founder Lara has this TED talk, which is a good place to start:

I do think that subscriptions are a good model and I have also been tracking subscription email newsletters as a way of doing it. In fact, in 2014 I worked with a startup called Tugboat Yards that was similar to Patreon, which had email newsletter subscriptions as part of its model; that startup ultimately failed and its product is gone, but I still believe in the basic ideas that inspired it.

A product I have been tracking recently is called Substack, which is specializing in subscription email newsletters:

@beah I would be curious about your thoughts on Substack and how your product plans to differentiate itself :slight_smile: Again, this is an area of personal interest for me – this has nothing to do with anything I’m working on for CHT – but I’m excited to see energy in the community around this topic.

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I’ve been enjoying the Newspicks App

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Ahhhh so you’re the person still using RSS readers :slight_smile: Yeah, I really like RSS in theory – allows us to actively select sources we trust and let them decide what we see. And if they let us down, we drop them. So different than letting aggregator algorithms monetize our attention! But I just haven’t been able to create an RSS feed and habit that is sticky for me. That’s why newsletters seem to work better for me (maybe combo of delivery location and relative brevity).

Anyway, thanks for the thoughts and the offer of UX help. If you want to stay abreast of what we’re doing there’s a way to sign up for updates at (that homepage is somewhat out of date in terms of the value proposition).

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Thanks so much for all of those resources – I will definitely check out News Deeply and the TED talk. And I love your thoughts on the systemic / incentive problems. I was talking to a friend who works at WSJ the other day and he was noting that there are lots of software companies trying to create tools that do things like detect bias or fake news but those are just tools on top of a sorta broken system. Journalists need a business model that 1. works (allows them to get paid) and 2. incentivizes quality not ad impressions. All the good intentions and talent in the world may not overcome a system in which survival is linked to ones ability to stimulate the limbic system and earn a click!

I’m excited by Substack and our values & mission are largely overlapping. We’re trying to tackle a different part of the stack, so to speak. Substack is the toolset to create a paid newsletter. We’re building a protocol to help those newsletters reach a broader audience. Our hypothesis is that many people WILL pay for quality writing given an attractive, reasonable way to do so – but most people won’t pay $5-$15 for each source because we want a variety of sources and both the cost and the cognitive overhead of 5 or 10 subscriptions creates too much friction. Individual publishers (newspapers) used to be the bundle themselves – writing about the entire spectrum of topics to satisfy the broad tastes of their regional consumer base. That doesn’t make as much sense post-internet – I have access to any source, without geographic constraint, and I want to take advantage of that. But I still want to pay one reasonable price once a month. This is why we think there ought to be a way for publishers/journalists to cooperate. A company could provide that layer – a la Spotify or Netflix. But we think an open protocol (where there’s no gatekeeper who can decide to extract value however they like) is in journalism’s best interest and therefore really in all of our best interests.

OK! Your questions got me excited and long winded!

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It is a challenge to find credible news sources without wading through a bunch of hyperbole and misdirection. Any time there’s a big “Trump did this” story I immediately assume something else is going on that some would like us to be distracted from. Then I start to dig. My usual reads for daily stuff is local, Washington Post, and New York Times.


Will sign up - thanks @beah

And yeah, RSS readers require an up front investment of time. I usually suggest people set aside an hour or two to set up their feed - which is counter-intuitive on the modern internet, where people expect to sign up and have everything handled for them.