No news is good news!

tannoy

I don’t watch The News on TV or read newspaper articles…other than when readers send me the occasional gem.

I think of The News as like the announcements made over The Tannoy System in The Prison Camp: a loud stream of misinformation, propaganda and general bullshit.

I started avoiding the news as a deliberate part of my approach to investing.  And that has made me richer. But over time its also had the surprising side effect of making me calmer and happier.

I used to think it was strange that Warren Buffet was a great investor and yet based himself in a small town in the middle of nowhere and with no Bloomberg terminal anywhere to be seen.

Wrong! I had this almost entirely backwards.  Warren Buffet did not become a great investor despite distancing himself from Wall Street.  No, he became a great investor partly because he distanced himself from that noisy cacophony of misinformation.

There are 3 elements to great investing.  The first element is your strategy.  Investing in Vanguard index trackers is a (sensible) strategy.  Daytrading is a (dumb) strategy.

Strategy is the bit that everyone focuses on.  But most people miss the 2 other elements to good investing.  The missing elements, which are just as important, are Story and State.  Story is the way you see the world, your mindset and belief system.  State is your emotional condition: being calm is a state, being anxious is a state.

financial independenceWatching the news fucks with your state.  If you want to be anxious, frazzled, worried and fearful, then go right ahead and watch the TV news.  Preferably in the evening after a stressful day at work. By flopping down in front of the television nightly to catch up on the day’s violence and disasters in faraway places, you’re developing a habit that messes with your mind over time.

When I grew up, my parents watched the TV news every night, the interweb was not around and quality newspapers were sources of valuable information. But in recent decades the media has expanded and its spun out of control.   The internet and social media have increased competition for attention. The news cycle has speeded up and our attention spans have got way shorter.  The result is clickbait and sensationalism.

Watching The News is not a waste of time, its worse than that.  Digging a hole and then filling it back in is a waste of time.  Watching The News is actively harmful because it distorts our view of the world. Everyday is earthquake / school shooter / child abduction day in News World.  As MMM put it: the news completely fucks up the layperson’s perception of risk.

If you’re in a state of fear or anxiety, you’ll make bad decisions…in investing and in life generally. You’re more likely to self-medicate with retail therapy. More likely to procrastinate, freeze and get stuck in your investing.  Or overtrade.  Or panic when the stock market falls.

When I suggest to coaching clients that they cut out the news, they sometimes look puzzled. Firstly they feel they have to know about politics and current affairs in order to invest. Wrong! Secondly, they believe on some level that they have a duty as a good citizen to watch the news.

I understand and sympathise with these concerns.  The Escape Artist is all for being a good citizen. But your duty to stay informed about current affairs is done once you have the information you need to exercise your vote wisely.  The rest is just entertainment.

If I want information, I bypass the information gatekeepers and I go direct to the original source.  Thanks to the electrical interweb, you don’t need the news media to get quality information.  So if you want the stats on, say, inflation you can either read the newspaper and get something like this:

Hard pressed working families SLAMMED by shocking rise in price of unnecessary plasma screen TVs

or you could go to the website for The Office for National Statistics and see that inflation was 1% in the year to September 2016.

The trick is to keep in mind the difference between what you can control (or at least influence) and what you can’t.  The news is an endless parade of things that you can’t control. Political dramas, stock market fluctuations, sports, local tragedies, weather, red carpet dresses and celebrity gossip.  The thing that they all have in common is that they are fascinating to our monkey brains and yet entirely beyond our control.

In the bad old days, insufficient information was the main problem. But these days we need to protect ourselves from information overload.  Imagine your brain is a computer.  Watching The News regularly is like plugging that computer into the internet without virus protection. You’ll be bombarded with pop-ups, advertising, viruses, spyware, malware and general bullshit.   Your hard drive will eventually seize up and require de-fragging.

If you are a knowledge worker, then your brain is your greatest asset.  It’s the source of all your future earnings.  Look after it.

The News is not an objective stream of unbiased information wisely selected by our Elders And Betters.  No, its the result of a noisy, chaotic and intensely competitive fight for our attention, our votes and for our spending.

As an example, last week I was walking through Leicester Square in central London and there was a commotion going on outside one of the buildings.  There are sometimes red carpet film premieres in Leicester Square so The Escape Artist sensed an opportunity to spot an A list celebrity.  Maybe the fine, chiselled jaw of George Clooney or perhaps the sellotape assisted bust of some celebrity actress?

Imagine my disappointment when I saw it was Jeremy Corbyn (who apparently is a politician).  In front of him were a couple of bored looking cameramen and photographers.  Behind him were a noisy and vocal gaggle of what I estimate were about 6-8 supporters chanting and holding up placards.  And behind them was maybe 15-20 or so passers by…who, like The Escape Artist, didn’t know what was going on but were just vaguely curious.

Looking on, I worked out the camera angles and realised that, to the TV viewer or newspaper reader, it would have looked like a big crowd had formed, like something important was happening.

jezza

And here is the result: the photo opp as presented on Jeremy Corbyn’s Twitter feed.

If you saw this on the TV news or in a newspaper, you might have thought one of 2 things.

You might have thought that Jezza and The Corbynistas were being swept to power on a huge wave of popular democratic support and gone to buy some more champagne.

Or you might have thought that The Communist Revolution was drawing near and gone to buy some more shells for your shotgun.

The reality was slightly less interesting. A realistic newspaper headline might have been:

Old man shows up to non-event, few interested.

Now even before this happened, The Escape Artist was not so naive as to think that politicians didn’t stage-manage events and try to spin the news agenda in their favour.  But it’s still revealing to see it first hand.

One of the great things about escaping from The Prison Camp is the gift of getting your own mind back.  Now, part of the reason I can do that because I don’t have to pretend in meetings that I’m fabulously well informed about current events.  But even if you are not yet financially independent, you can stop watching the news.   People love to chat and so if anything important happens, someone will always tell you about it.

My “No News is Good News” policy led to some comedy moments when I explained it to others. A few years ago, The Escape Artist was at a Surrey dinner party. The conversation was going smoothly until we got onto The Important Subject of Current Affairs.

Concern was earnestly expressed at the threat from Middle Eastern terrorism which had recently been in the news. The Escape Artist was asked for his view on this terrifying threat and replied honestly that I dealt with this issue by cunningly not living in Iraq, not watching the news and not worrying about irrelevant things that I can’t control.

Cue shock and general outrage!

The Good People of Surrey expressed the view that The Escape Artist had a duty to watch The News and keep up with developments in global terrorism.   Hhhmmm.  The Escape Artist was at that time working as a beancounter in corporate finance and I’m pretty sure there was nothing about monitoring global terrorism in my job spec.

A lot of people are clearly confused on this point, so let me clarify.  You have a duty to keep up with latest developments in global terrorism if your job is any of the following:

  • President of The United States of America
  • Head of Homeland Security
  • Prime Minister of The United Kingdom, France etc etc
  • Head of MI5 / MI6 / CI5 / SAS etc etc
  • Head of The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
  • Secretary of The UN Security Council
  • Chief of Interplod
  • Holder of the 00 Licence to Kill
  • Body Frisker and Rubber Glove Wearer at Heathrow Airport

It would be nice if everyone else could just get on with their own jobs.

It’s impossible to know whether my flagrant disregard of terrorism in the Surrey suburbs has endangered me.  What I do know for sure is that, since that dinner party, not once have I have been blown up by terrorists.

Now, the office workers at that dinner party would have you believe that their watching The News has kept me safe the last 5 years.

Me? I’m not so sure about that 😉

25 comments

  1. This is a great post and I have been doing this for the last couple of months. Sometimes I get sucked into following political elections but that ends when the canpaign ends. Also monthly and yearly updates from the specific areas I care about and generally being good news keep my brain ticking over with enough new info.

  2. Totally agree. I can’t even listen to Radio Four as they dredge the world for stories of misery. This morning I switched off as they were about to do another “Special Report” from Aleppo. It just gets you down. I still read the papers because I can choose the stories I want to read and I generally enjoy columnists, but I could do without the vast majority of it. Maybe I’ll try doing so.

    1. Good point for us Brits here…its not just the commercial news providers eg Sky, ITV, Fox etc that dredge the world for misery (love that phrase)….the BBC also does this all the time

  3. Having just read on my Twitter feed that a 60:40 equities:bond portfolio has zero chance of returning 5% annualized real returns over the next decade
    ( it was from Meb Faber so there is perhaps something to his projections) , I turned to the TV for some quality viewing only to hear that Drumpf was narrowing the gap between himself and HRC. Only then to hear it was a Fox News poll that has collected the data – this outlet is as trustworthy as a real estate magnate from Queen’s NY.

    I then turned on the very fine National Public Radio and all my fears about the world were assuaged…..for a few moments at least…..

  4. London Rob · · Reply

    Hi TEA,

    Love it, I can just imagine the faces on the good people of Surrey 🙂 I have massively slimmed down the amount of news I consume, however I do get the FT at the weekends, and I do still try and keep up with what is going on in various countries. Although my job isnt listed above, it does require some knowledge of what is going on in various countries due to the global nature (e.g. if Russia is getting tricky we may not want to send people there, and this will impact plans…!). Although I did once get odd looks when I said that two people on the team at the time were not to travel on the same plane – they were the only to on the programme who had the knowledge, so I wanted to reduce my risk. Would I have insisted that if they were just flying to Paris? Probably not.

    Its an interesting view when you see what they publish first hand – I’ve had that “pleasure” on a number of occasions – and so my view of the press is not very favourable and I take anything they report with a pinch of salt – the best way to know what is going on is to talk to you friends and colleagues (if you are still working ;-)) who live in that region, although again it is still a biased report.

    You can use the news to your benefit – so I tend to use some of my “gamble” money in investing on bad news events, purchasing FTSE250 just after the brexit result was announced, and likewise on some of the individual shares, but this is a very high risk approach – I have also lost money doing it (I have made more than I have lost so I am happy!)

    Have a great weekend 🙂
    London Rob

    1. Yes, good point…The News does provide lots of contrarian trading signals!

    1. Thank you for bringing this to our attention…topless selfie crashes are a Serious Issue that is so often shamefully ignored by the mainstream media 😉

    2. I read the Guardian online and get annoyed with stories like this because it’s not obvious until you click and read that the article relates to a different country. I always curse myself for clicking because there’s normally a “Shall I bother or not bother clicking cos the title looks rubbish.. oh go on, let’s see what it’s about… oh s%$£ it’s not even in the UK”. The Evening Standard is even worse for complete meaningless trivia articles.

  5. Like an earlier comment, I gave up listening to Radio 4 some time ago, the Today program especially was just too annoying, so R3 is my preferred listening these days. I rarely watch TV news now, since the times when they (yes, even Aunty) were reporting on things I knew something about and they completely distorted the reality. I only look at the Torygraph website for the always excellent Matt cartoon but mostly I read the technical sites like The Register and Ars Technica. I completely agree with your central issue. I have several friends who write long, agonising posts on farcebook about some tragedy several continents away. They have obviously deeply internalised something about which they can do absolutely nothing. I think the popularity of online petitions is a palliative to make people think they are taking control of something. But how many of these petitions actually make one iota of difference?

  6. I remember when I lived with my parents, my dad got a daily newspaper delivered and the only sections I used to read were the TV guide, the celebrities gossip column, the agony aunt column and the sports pages!

    It might be nice to go back to those carefree days but I admit that I do follow current news just to see what’s going on, plus I want to learn new stuff. I don’t let the bad news get to me or worry about it.

    Interesting what London Rob says about colleagues travelling on the same plane – we were once told off when we went on a team outing where the entire team of 5 travelled in the same car as this was apparently contra the company’s impact plan!

    1. You’re right about the news of course; however a company I regularly buy things from has had to half this year’s release schedule after it lost three of its toolmakers in a car accident whilst lift sharing. Obviously a tragedy for the families first and foremost, but it’s seriously affected the company as well. It can happen and seriously affects smaller companies.

  7. I have stopped watching most TV now anyway. I was in Spain this week and woke up on Thursday morning to be asked by my travelling com padre “have you seen the news, there’s been an earthquake in Italy”
    Firstly this information serves no purpose to me (I’m in Spain)
    Secondly the news served no purpose to the people in the earthquake (they already know)

    As harsh as this sounds, the people needing to know the information are the people on their way to help and the government who may or may not be able to help pay to get things fixed.

  8. FI Warrior · · Reply

    3 ways modern news media can be harmful:-

    1. All that competing disaster porn from around the planet can make you feel helpless and not in control of your world, so you are demotivated to get your own stuff done. (Something actually useful I picked up from a training Guru back in my corporate days ironically)

    2. A major cognitive bias humans have is that what they are focusing on at the time assumes disproportionate importance in their minds, so if Whatever News is screeching about this Fear-of-the-day, you subconsciously think mainly about that, not what would be in your best interests. As such, while News outlets can’t necessarily tell you what to think, they’re still having way too much influence on your life by controlling what you’re thinking about.

    3. If disasters best grab attention in the race to the bottom for viewers to make money on advertising (corporates sh*ting directly into your head) and you can’t change the situation, then your only involvement really is being entertained by misery. Why would you choose for your entertainment of choice in your precious free time to be watching the unhappiness of strangers?

  9. A great post, and very timely. I’ve been on a no-news diet for a while now – the news honestly never really had that much appeal to me anyway, I was largely ignoring it for ages before making this a conscious choice – but I’ve found myself trying to deal with the uncertainty of Brexit by reading the news. The word addiction is overused but I can see some value in it here. I find myself sat at my desk at work feeling a bit fed up and daydreaming about FI (a definite trigger for this behaviour; I’m much less likely to indulge it in at the weekends) and then I start to worry slightly. I tell myself that I’ve agreed with myself that I should stop looking at the news because there’s no point because basically nothing of any real significance is going to happen for months yet, *and then I go look at the news anyway*. As if anyone can make any sensible predictions at this point, or as if I could actually act on the basis of even a 60% reliable prediction anyway. The smart thing to do is to learn to deal with the uncertainty, but of course that’s easier said than done – although I keep trying.

    I have in the past had funny looks from people when a) I didn’t know what ‘IS’ was and b) when I hadn’t heard about a train crash somewhere in Europe. My thinking there is and always has been that me knowing about it won’t bring anyone back to life and it won’t make the survivors feel any less grief, so why make myself feel miserable for literally no benefit? Plus as ‘FI Warrior’ says, there’s an argument that you’re actually using the unhappiness of strangers as entertainment.

  10. Now for once I don’t agree with you here, TEA. I think ‘No news is simply no news’ -Lemony Snicket. Not knowing about the news doesn’t make it bad or good, after all it could be bad or good and you wouldn’t know better until you hear of it.

    The trick is to keep in mind the difference between what you can control (or at least influence) and what you can’t. The news is an endless parade of things that you can’t control.” – In this context, i can see why an overload of information can be bad for the mind. I think the key is to knowing what is in our sphere of influence and what isn’t, so we can focus on what we can control and not the other bigger sphere of what we cannot control. I admit this is difficult for even the most of us.

    For myself, I like to read alot and know about interesting things that are going on around the world, lives of people in different countries, disasters, touching stories, fiction, non-fiction. I think even the News from their various sources are interesting when you start to critically analyse it and see what the writer/reporter is trying to portray or they way they present it, who are they bias against and why that might be?

    Not being well informed could be a mistake in people not being as understanding the cultural, social, political aspects of different lives and being perceived as insensitive or ignorant. I think the important thing is to keep up to date with information but let it flow pass you like a rock in the river, just listen and then acknowledge it has happened but don’t react to it. Basically similar to the Vipassana meditative practice.

    I hope you understand where I am coming from!

    -FIREplanter

    1. Yes, I understand where you are coming from. But didn’t the Buddha say that even the strongest rock is eventually worn down by the water? Or did I just make that up? 😉

  11. Hi TEA,

    I think I stopped actively watching, reading and listening to the news about 10 years ago. I’ve found that any big news that happens I’ll find out about pretty quickly anyway from colleagues, family or friends. I’ve found myself a lot more focussed on my own affairs, and a lot less sad and disturbed by all the horrible things going on in the world. I’d rather form my own view of the world than one which a news corporation decides it wants to push on me.

    One thing I have done over the past year since getting an Apple Watch is allow the BBC breaking news alerts to pop up on my watch. It gives me snippets of the biggest news, but I rarely decide to find out more than just the headline. So perhaps this is a happy middle ground.

    Thanks for a great article on this subject.

    OR

  12. I’m a big fan of the FT, which I consider to be a cut above most of the media, which I ignore.
    That said, Brexit has turned me into a bit of an addict: constantly seeking out the latest information. It’s similar to that other train wreck of public policy: the Iraq war. These things are fascinating to watch for a time.

  13. Excellent post TEA.

    I’ve always found that if it is important and relevant enough somebody will tell you anyway.

    L

  14. meglinson · · Reply

    Spookily, I read this post last night shortly after watching the Adam Curtis film on iPlayer “Hyper Normalisation” – I thoroughly recommend watching it (and reading TEA of course!) – there is no news, just anxiety producing noise. As a result I’m going to start with “NEWS-FREE NOVEMBER” and see how I feel. Just as it is easy to get addicted to checking share prices & markets, so is it with news on Brexit or US elections, terrorism etc. None of it you can control and I can’t see anything good for your mental health being plugged into it.

    As Titus said, you can only control 2 things – your thoughts and actions.

  15. Agree with that – circles of influence are those we should focus on, and generally trying to be a positive person.

    Another aspect is the level of vitriol poured out from the comfort of a keyboard, best avoided altogether.

    That said, as an avid Brexit watcher, I have been following that slow moving car crash and thinking that Gina Miller has some brass balls for taking all the abuse she’s had coming her way during the case.

  16. I’m 18 days into the no news diet – its extraordinary. The main thing I’ve noticed, that I never appreciated, was the volume of time I’ve wasted reading the internet. The second, and more important aspect, is that background anxiety has left me. This habit is a no brainer – thanks for the heads-up TEA!

  17. I guess I practice a semi low info diet. Everything in moderation like they say!

    News/media is restricted but for example often the news at 6 is on in the background when I get home. No big deal really and I don’t pay much attention to it apart from the weather which IS all important for office water cooler chats 😉

    And obviously I read a few mainstream articles that are highlighted on the excellent blogs I read!

    Similarly I got myself into an awkward situation when talking about the news and practising some brutal honesty after work having a beer with some colleagues when I declared I “couldn’t give a shit” about when terrorist attack X gets plastered all over facebook, twitter and everywhere else. Admittedly could have phrased that one a bit better. But the underlying truth is true, obviously I care about the people that died and can empathise with all involved but it doesn’t make one iota of difference to my life and certainly not enough to wade around in fear and despair for days on end on social media, reading all the tweets and tweeting stuff myself etc. What a waste of everyones time (IMHO!) and really I’m sure that’s actually what the terrorists want – the more coverage, outrage and fear spread the better for them.

  18. […] been experimenting with a low news diet to some extent, similar to that discussed by TEA recently. This has involved doing my best to avoid the sites/news outlets listed […]

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