How Much Coronavirus News is Enough News?

By Tom Gilson Published on March 18, 2020

Does anyone remember the primaries? What primaries? Is there a coronavirus primary going on? Because there’s nothing else on the news. If it isn’t the coronavirus, no one’s talking about it. It’s all coronavirus, all the time.

TV news stations are good at hooking us in, whether we need to be watching or not. They know what grabs viewers and keeps them. For many of us, though, the constant flow of breathless virus reporting multiplies the stress, when more stress is exactly what we don’t need.

There’s got to be a limit somewhere, but where? How much news is enough? When is it time to turn it off? Here are principles flowing from three questions:

What Kind of News Are You Watching?

There’s news, and there’s sensationalized news. We all need to stay appropriately up to date on what’s going on, but we don’t need it hyped up for us.

Here at The Stream we’re reporting on the coronavirus, too, but we’re committed to maintaining hope throughout all our reporting. We’re also not attempting to be your primary news source, so for that you’ll want to turn to the most thorough, up-to-the-minute yet reasonable reporting you can find.

Why Are You Watching?

Why do you watch it? Other than staying generally informed, that is? Is it because the news station’s hooks have grabbed you? (Don’t be embarrassed, you’re not the only one.) Is it just because the TV is turned on? Or is it because, “I always watch the evening news, and if the constant coronavirus coverage is stressing me out, well, nuts, I always watch it so I’m going to keep on watching it!”

Sometimes even a good habit can be harmful. It might be time to think about why you’re watching. We don’t often ask ourselves that question, and the TV news sources don’t want us to.

You’re not tied to your couch, and you don’t have to keep watching.

Being well-informed is important, but few of us are in danger of being under-informed on this virus anymore. More of us are at risk of being overwhelmed by too much information, too much focus, too much obsessive attention paid to it. Some of us would probably admit to having trouble pulling away from it.

I can think of two good reasons to watch: First, to be generally well-informed, and second, to make decisions we’re responsible to make. The level of responsibility varies from one person to the next. Some of us have had to decide whether to shut down shops or restaurants; all of us need to decide what we’re going to do about social distancing and special hygiene precautions. We need enough information to be able decide responsibility. Once we’ve got that, it’s probably okay to turn off the news.

What’s It Doing To Your Spirit?

Finally, what’s happening to your spirit as you watch the news? Everyone is different on this. I can’t stand watching football when my team is playing poorly. The rest of my family can, but I can’t, and they all breathe easier when I leave the room.

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Some folks don’t react to the news a bit. I’m glad for them; may their tribe increase; but we’re not all likewise blessed. So listen to your thoughts, not just the words from the tube. Pay attention to your spirit, not just the images on the screen. Are you feeling stressed? Is anxiety rising? Again, you need not be embarrassed if it is. You’re certainly not the only one. You’re also not tied to your couch, and you don’t have to keep watching.

Putting It Together

So here’s how I’d put all this together: Choose a news source that reports reasonably, without sensationalizing. Watch until it starts turning from information-providing to anxiety-provoking. If you need the information to make necessary decisions, keep watching anyway — but only until you’re confident you have what you need.

Otherwise, it’s perfectly okay to turn it off. The whole nation might just breathe easier if we’d all do that once in a while.


Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ and Critical Conversations: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens, and the lead editor of True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism.

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