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A healthy reading diet - removing the junk

There are two types of news websites:

  1. Type 1: Mass, commodity content that is trying to cover all the news in as close to real time as possible. A high volume of content that usually lacks depth or insight, but does keep you informed as things develop.
  2. Type 2: Less frequent, considered analysis, opinion (and sometimes aggregation). Fewer articles that are usually more thoughtfully composed and are better researched. You might miss out on what’s happening right now, but will eventually read what is important.

I stopped paying direct attention to the news quite some time ago but still subscribe to several hundred websites and blogs through RSS feeds in Feedbin. Having also all but abandoned social media, I thought that this would be a good way to stay up to date on a “pull” basis rather than “push” i.e. checking at my convenience rather than being hooked into notifications and “breaking news”.

However, I recently found that I was still instinctively clicking through to Feedbin far too often. Most of the sites I subscribe to publish infrequently but I subscribe to a enough feeds that it’s guaranteed there will always be something new. I felt like this was damaging my ability to focus, particularly with Type 1 content that is constantly streaming in. As such, I have been trying to reduce my consumption of Type 1 content in favour of Type 2.

This was a simple change to make – remove Type 1 subscriptions and other sites I didn’t look forward to reading.

The Type 1 sites that I purged included 9to5Mac (similar to MacRumorsApple Insider, etc) and I am now only paying attention to Daring FireballGuido Fawkes was also removed and I am now getting my politics update from the daily Coffee House Shots podcast and the Signal Foreign Policy blog. If I hear about a specific breaking story I want to check, I’ll go to the BBC News – one of the few remaining organisations with reliable, original news reporting. But sites which publish more than a couple of times per week are now candidates for removal.

Screenshot of some of my Feedbin website subscriptions
Screenshot of some of my Feedbin website subscriptions

In addition, I removed Feedbin from my Safari Favourites. Instead of clicking the icon, I now have to actually type in the URL. Because Feedbin is so quick to load, clicking the icon had become a reflex; by the time I realised I’d done it, everything had loaded! Now, typing the URL is a deliberate action that I might start, but can still stop myself before hitting return.

My feed reading approach now matches how I get news i.e. no news apps, no TV, no Twitter and only reading the Sunday Times and FT Weekend on a Sunday morning. The Economist is an alternative I would also recommend because of its publication schedule every 2 weeks, although I no longer subscribe. For tech, Stratechery is the best.

The key to Type 2 content is the (in)frequency in which it is published. Does anyone really need to read 20-30 articles a day?

I still pay attention to Twitter, I just don’t use Twitter to do it. Instead, I subscribe to specific people in Feedbin. I only see their tweets and don’t get distracted by the mess that is the Twitter feed, replies, trends and ads. Any links are expanded within Feedbin so I don’t even need to leave the app.

Screenshot of a Tweet on Feedbin
Screenshot of a Tweet on Feedbin

It now takes me 3-4 hours each Sunday to read everything. Not only does this compress everything and prevent me spreading the distractions throughout the week, that but the material I am reading is much more considered. Opinions have had time to be formed and evidence gathered for a more in depth writeup.

Type 1 sites that generate tens of posts a day are just adding to the noise. There is almost nothing that happens that needs to be reported to me in real time. Sometimes those sites have some good original content, but then the aggregators will report it (example).

So far, this experiment has had the expected effect of allowing me more time to focus. Just like when I removed all social media apps from my phone and browser favourites, I’m finding I have tamed the reflex of clicking the Feedbin shortcut as well.

Introducing just a little inconvenience has actually been a positive. I haven’t missed anything important and have freed up time I previously wasted on those unnecessarily verbose Type 1 sites. I now look forward to reading the various Type 2 sites and blogs I subscribe to in Feedbin each weekend, and have more time for reading books.

Despite the rise of content marketing, long form content is still valuable and is where I’m trying to focus my own writing as well. The first step to improving my reading diet is removing the junk.