As I was working on my doctorate degree in rhetoric, it became clear to me how important it is to have a diverse and healthy “media diet.” I had my daughter right in the middle of my graduate program, and I was careful to make sure that the books I read to her represented characters of different races, sexual orientations, and cultural backgrounds. I screened the movies she watched for messages I didn’t want her to receive — at least not until she was old enough to analyze them for herself. I took it to heart that it was my job to make sure that she consumed good media.
I’m using the word “consume” intentionally here. Just like our food diets nourish us best when we intentionally choose a diverse array of foods that meet different nutritional needs, our media diets require similar choices. If we surround ourselves by people who think just like us, it’s like deciding only to eat one kind of food. We’re going to be deficient in some important ways.
The thing is, it’s not just our children who need a diverse and healthy media diet. It’s us adults, too. As social media became more and more prevalent in my own life, I realized how easy it was to stay in a bubble where I only heard what I wanted to hear.
It’s so easy to fall into an echo chamber. How quick are we to “unfollow” or even “unfriend” someone who pushes back on our comfort zones? How often do we seek out reporting from outlets that disagree with us?
If we recognize that it’s in our best interest to hear information from multiple (credible) sources and to make sure that we aren’t shutting out people who are offering a different perspective, then it’s our responsibility to take steps to put that belief into action.
Here are the steps I’ve taken for myself to try to make my media diet more diverse and make sure that I’m listening before I talk, thinking before I share, and considering the pieces of the story that might be missing.
- Follow News Sources- One of the best things I’ve done for breaking out of my echo chamber is following news sources on my social media feeds. It’s true that I was already seeing a lot of news reports shared from my friends, but without going straight to the source, I only saw the posts my friends — often people who think like me – thought deserved to be amplified. Adding actual news sources to my feed helped me make sure I saw stories I wouldn’t see otherwise. I try to follow a variety of local, national, and international sources.
- Seek Out the Other Side– Anyone who knows me knows that I have opinions. I don’t keep quiet about them. I’m political, and I’m loud about it. But you may be surprised to know that some of those news sources I follow are ones that lean decidedly on the opposite side of my personal political spectrum. This chart from media studies expert Vanessa Otero has been really helpful to me. We don’t need to follow unreliable propaganda (on either side of the political spectrum), but I was following The Atlantic, so I added in Reason. I can balance out The Nation by following The National Review. (Note: On Facebook, you can “follow” a page without “liking” it.)
- Unfollow Meaningfully– I have boundaries. If someone in my feed is being hateful and unkind, I don’t owe them my limited space or energy. But I try really hard not to unfollow or unfriend without real intention.
- Remember Entertainment– Media isn’t just the news. It’s also the fictional entertainment we consume in our downtime. I try to make sure that the books I read, the movies I watch, and the music I listen to offer perspectives I may not have considered. Who wrote these stories? Whose voice have I not heard lately? Seeking out marginalized voices helps broaden my perspective.
Right now, it feels like every hour is filled with breaking and potentially life-changing news. It’s one thing after another, and it can be really tempting to tune out completely. We have a responsibility to stay informed and listen to people who disagree with us, but we also have a necessity to take care of ourselves. Creating a diverse media diet has allowed me to (mostly) feel informed and stay aware.