Earlier this week we ran an experiment. On the 7th August 2023, a day we picked randomly in advance, we visited the top ten news sites in the world to see what stories were making the headlines. Combined, these websites receive over five billion visits a month, making them humanity's prime information-gathering apparatus - our most important tool for discovering what is happening beyond our immediate environment.
We had a few criteria. We didn't include anything about climate change or the war in Ukraine, because those feel like genuinely newsworthy events. We also didn't include any sport, celebrity or politics news, which is basically all Trump anyway (apparently journalists have learned nothing after seven years). Once that was all removed, here's what we found:
The news is supposed to tell us what's happening in the world. It doesn't. Instead, thanks to a combination of commercial pressures, cognitive biases and cultural habits, news organisations have become modern-day doom machines, showcasing the absolute worst of humanity. There isn't even a pretence at balance. That's why we think the biggest problem with journalism today isn't fake news, or filter bubbles, or polarisation, or elitism, or the ongoing obsession with the website formerly known as Twitter.
The biggest problem is bad news.