Dealing with Information Overload

By Mitch Clarke, Director of News and Content, WDUN

I was a big fan of the comic strip “Shoe,” about a bunch of birds who worked at a newspaper. Naturally, a lot of the strips hit home for me, a guy who has spent close to 40 years working in one newsroom or another.

In the first panel of my favorite “Shoe” strip, the reporter runs into the editor’s office and announces, “We’ve got nothing for the paper tomorrow. Nothing is happening.” In the second panel, the editor responds, “We’ll have to go with our emergency front page.” And in the third panel, you see the emergency front page with the giant headline: NEWS SHORTAGE GRIPS NATION.

Of course, that strip was from the early ’80s – the dark ages, before 24-hour cable news channels, talk radio programs and endless Facebook posts. Only a couple of ways existed to get news. You could watch the “Today” show while you read your morning paper. You could watch the local news at 6 p.m. and the national news at 6:30. And, if you were a night owl, you could catch more news at 11. But that was it.

Today, there is no end to the number of places where you can find news. And that’s just by using the cell phone that, most likely, is almost permanently attached to your hand.

For the past five years, I’ve managed a news website that we update many times a day, sometimes many times an hour. And then the coronavirus outbreak happened, and the amount of information exploded like Mount Vesuvius.

And the news is scary. It’s overwhelming. And I’m the guy who loves breaking news stories. They’re what I live for. But this story, it’s overwhelming.

If it’s overwhelming for me, I can only imagine how it must feel for all of you, stuck at home trying to work and care for your kids. Or figuring out how bills are going to be paid next month. Or going to work every day and worrying about whether the virus came home with you.

You’re scared. You want information. So you spend every free minute you have watching the news channels, reading the news websites and scrolling endlessly on Facebook and Instagram looking for information.

As a guy who makes his living off you coming to my news website, let me just say – stop. Turn off the TV. Shut down the computer (or at least close your internet browser if you’re working).

Unplug. Turn off push notifications. Go for a walk. Play with your kids. Watch a movie. Read a book. Clean the house. (OK, maybe that’s not the best idea.) Disconnect from the news for four or five hours. Nothing that happens during that amount of time is going to change anything for you.

And pick your sources carefully. Don’t get your news from Facebook or Twitter. Find a good local news source and a couple of national news sources. Since you are limiting your time with the news, it’s important to find a few, factual sources you can trust.

Find those sources you trust. Bookmark them. Check in a couple of times a day. Then disconnect. Really. Concentrate on your family. FaceTime your friends. Check in with your neighbors. It’s a scary time, but you can do good things.

Don’t let the information overload overwhelm you. Choose to let it inform you. Then get back to teaching your kids long division. Or letting them teach you.

Mitch Clarke is the director of news and content at WDUN AM/FM and in Gainesville. Previously, he served eight years as editor of The Times.