Goodbye, doomscroll

“There’s a hunger for media formats that feel more considerate, more consentful, and designed with care. It’s absolutely crucial for our safety and our wellbeing.”

For many, including myself, staying at home as a pandemic precaution also meant more screentime. I found myself scrolling through feeds throughout the day to take breaks, distract myself, check in on the state of the world, and just do something.

A new anxiety took shape. The feeds surfaced the extremes without warning, and their frictionless design kept it coming. This year of horrible stress and worry was exacerbated by the overwhelm, addiction, and violence of feeds. More than any other year, I saw friends (who have the resources) find new habits in an attempt to mitigate the engulfing exhaustion, stress, anxiety, and burnout.

After burning out, what’s next? For myself, it’s deleting the addictive apps from my phone. It’s creating limits for how much I’m online. In the need to figure out healthier digital boundaries, I’ve noticed a similarity to physical distancing and limiting gatherings. Still, it’s crucial that I remain connected, aware, and responsible. There’s difficult news. There’s media intended to manipulate. Dip into the feeds, but with caution. I feel anxious before I even realize it.

I find my refuge in a daily news podcast from NPR. In phone calls. In writing emails like it’s the 2000s, in a way that they feel like long letters. In postcards. In watching the sunset. In browsing homepages. I go back to media that’s less demanding — that’s receptive to limits rather than only pushing for more engagement.

In 2021, we’ll wave goodbye to the doomscroll. The scale of the mental health impact of this horrible design will give rise to mounting social pressure on companies to make changes on ethical grounds. We may see surface changes, but they won’t attend to the deeper harms. As a response, we’ll witness wider explorations outside of these addictive and toxic patterns, both from readers and media makers.

I’ve previously written about zines, and about media that cares for you. The qualities of these formats make them not just bearable, but also healthier. Consider what a healthier UX feels like:

  1. The media requires clear intention. Anything you read, you specifically request. You don’t just wander in expecting anything. There’s no “up next” that pushes front and center, automatically claiming your attention. You’re less surprised by what you see because you’re prepared to receive it.
  2. There’s a thoughtful narrative. Various sections of information are juxtaposed with reason. There’s deliberateness in how the information is synthesized instead of optimizing some supplier metric. The narrative responds to the reader.
  3. There are clear boundaries. Requesting more, seeing more, takes some effort. We’re not aggressively pressed for more attention. That doesn’t mean limiting the spread of important information; the stories we’re seeing on the impact of the pandemic, and on justice for marginalized people must be visible. But how can we better frame and distribute them with care? And in a way that is also safe for their authors?
  4. You can choose how you interact. The media meets you where you’re at. For example, mobile apps can be more addictive than the desktop web. Give readers a choice to opt for the less addictive option.

There’s a hunger for media formats that feel more considerate, more consentful, and designed with care. It’s absolutely crucial for our safety and our wellbeing. This next year, we’ll see new formats for news and storytelling adopting these qualities. I’m excited to see this. My burned-out, screen-fatigued eyes and brain are too.

Kawandeep Virdee is the author of Feeling Great About My Butt and a writer advocate at Medium.

For many, including myself, staying at home as a pandemic precaution also meant more screentime. I found myself scrolling through feeds throughout the day to take breaks, distract myself, check in on the state of the world, and just do something.

A new anxiety took shape. The feeds surfaced the extremes without warning, and their frictionless design kept it coming. This year of horrible stress and worry was exacerbated by the overwhelm, addiction, and violence of feeds. More than any other year, I saw friends (who have the resources) find new habits in an attempt to mitigate the engulfing exhaustion, stress, anxiety, and burnout.

After burning out, what’s next? For myself, it’s deleting the addictive apps from my phone. It’s creating limits for how much I’m online. In the need to figure out healthier digital boundaries, I’ve noticed a similarity to physical distancing and limiting gatherings. Still, it’s crucial that I remain connected, aware, and responsible. There’s difficult news. There’s media intended to manipulate. Dip into the feeds, but with caution. I feel anxious before I even realize it.

I find my refuge in a daily news podcast from NPR. In phone calls. In writing emails like it’s the 2000s, in a way that they feel like long letters. In postcards. In watching the sunset. In browsing homepages. I go back to media that’s less demanding — that’s receptive to limits rather than only pushing for more engagement.

In 2021, we’ll wave goodbye to the doomscroll. The scale of the mental health impact of this horrible design will give rise to mounting social pressure on companies to make changes on ethical grounds. We may see surface changes, but they won’t attend to the deeper harms. As a response, we’ll witness wider explorations outside of these addictive and toxic patterns, both from readers and media makers.

I’ve previously written about zines, and about media that cares for you. The qualities of these formats make them not just bearable, but also healthier. Consider what a healthier UX feels like:

  1. The media requires clear intention. Anything you read, you specifically request. You don’t just wander in expecting anything. There’s no “up next” that pushes front and center, automatically claiming your attention. You’re less surprised by what you see because you’re prepared to receive it.
  2. There’s a thoughtful narrative. Various sections of information are juxtaposed with reason. There’s deliberateness in how the information is synthesized instead of optimizing some supplier metric. The narrative responds to the reader.
  3. There are clear boundaries. Requesting more, seeing more, takes some effort. We’re not aggressively pressed for more attention. That doesn’t mean limiting the spread of important information; the stories we’re seeing on the impact of the pandemic, and on justice for marginalized people must be visible. But how can we better frame and distribute them with care? And in a way that is also safe for their authors?
  4. You can choose how you interact. The media meets you where you’re at. For example, mobile apps can be more addictive than the desktop web. Give readers a choice to opt for the less addictive option.

There’s a hunger for media formats that feel more considerate, more consentful, and designed with care. It’s absolutely crucial for our safety and our wellbeing. This next year, we’ll see new formats for news and storytelling adopting these qualities. I’m excited to see this. My burned-out, screen-fatigued eyes and brain are too.

Kawandeep Virdee is the author of Feeling Great About My Butt and a writer advocate at Medium.

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting dodged a bullet in 2020, but 2021 will be harder

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Kate Myers   My son will join every Zoom call in our industry

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

An Xiao Mina   2020 isn’t a black swan — it’s a yellow canary

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Alfred Hermida and Oscar Westlund   The virus ups data journalism’s game

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Sam Ford   We’ll find better ways to archive our work

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Candis Callison   Calling it a crisis isn’t enough (if it ever was)

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

Sue Cross   A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Jennifer Brandel   A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

Patrick Butler   Covid-19 reporting has prepared us for cross-border collaboration

Shaydanay Urbani and Nancy Watzman   Local collaboration is key to slowing misinformation

Sumi Aggarwal   News literacy programs aren’t child’s play

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

Bill Adair   The future of fact-checking is all about structured data

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Aaron Foley   Diversity gains haven’t shown up in local news

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Ashton Lattimore   Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

L. Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula   Expect to see more translations and non-English content

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

Nikki Usher   Don’t expect an antitrust dividend for the media

Tanya Cordrey   Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Annie Rudd   Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Astead W. Herndon   The Trump-sized window of the media caring about race closes again

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

Francesca Tripodi   Don’t expect breaking up Google and Facebook to solve our information woes

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

Raney Aronson-Rath   To get past information divides, we need to understand them first

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Rishad Patel   From direct-to-consumer to direct-to-believers

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Cory Haik   Be essential

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes   A shift from conversation to action

Julia B. Chan and Kim Bui   Millennials are ready to run things

María Sánchez Díez   Traffic will plummet — and it’ll be ok

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists will be kinder to each other — and to themselves

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Richard J. Tofel   Less on politics, more on how government works (or doesn’t)

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

C.W. Anderson   Journalism changed under Trump — will it keep changing under Biden?

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

james Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Ariane Bernard   Going solo is still only a path for the few

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

Ben Collins   We need to learn how to talk to (and about) accidental conspiracists

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Laura E. Davis   The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Benjamin Toff   Beltway reporting gets normal again, for better and for worse

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Marcus Mabry   News orgs adapt to a post-Trump world (with Trump still in it)

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Mike Caulfield   2021’s misinformation will look a lot like 2020’s (and 2019’s, and…)

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Joshua Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche