Are you part of the exhausted majority? That’s what I found myself thinking about last weekend as I washed Brussels sprouts (yes, they’re amazing) and chopped sweet potatoes while digesting news of the Rittenhouse verdict, the car attack in Waukesha, and so much more. David French, the conservative-but-never-Trump commentator, said it well on CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter’s podcast: There’s an “exhausted majority” right now, across the political spectrum. So many people are tired of feeling like everything is a disaster, everything is at risk, and we’ll never be done fighting with unvaccinated relatives over who gets to come to Thanksgiving.
And tired, too, of the news. I’m a journalist who lives and breathes news, and I get tired. So many headlines that want to get your attention. So much to worry about. Democrats in disarray, inflation, the climate—it’s all at 11, all the time.
There’s a reason for this, and it’s not you. It’s not even (just) the state of the world. Yes, there are a lot of crises out there. But this is (obviously) not the only time of crisis the world, or America, has ever been through. It is, however, the only one in which we have lived in a 24/7 media ecosystem that depends for a significant part of its business on instant reaction and instant outrage.
If you’ve been reading Mother Jones for a little while, you know about the basic problem: Advertising revenue for publishers and broadcasters depends in large part on both quantity—clicks, eyeballs, video views—and engagement: how long you stick around, whether you share, whether you comment. And all of those metrics are juiced when content tugs at your emotions, especially fear and outrage. That can take the form of sensational headlines about simple news stories, or it can take the form of opinionated hot takes. Even for newsrooms that depend less on advertising than subscriptions, as the New York Times and the Washington Post do, quick-turnaround opinion content is key in getting people to subscribe. That’s why you’re seeing these prestige outlets add more and more columnists and associated newsletters.
And opinion comes at you just as fast as a breaking headline. Cable news, as the LA Times’ former editorial page editor, Sewell Chan, told CJR’s Adam Piore, is now a “nonstop opinion machine.” But so, too, are our newspapers, as Chan’s counterpart at the Washington Post made clear:
“There was a time when the president was giving his acceptance speech at the convention on a Thursday night, the editorial board would listen, and on Friday morning they would meet and discuss it; somebody would write an editorial, the editor would edit it, and we would publish it thirty-six hours later, on Saturday morning, and that would be fine,” the editor of the Washington Post’s editorial page, Fred Hiatt, told Piore. “If I did that now, I’d be a laughingstock. It’s gone from No, we have to be in the next morning to If we’re going to have a response, we have to have a response that night.”
The internet’s hunger for instant takes is even changing politics itself: As my colleague Tim Murphy has written, there’s a whole cadre of politicians now who function primarily as content creators for the outrage machine: “They are treating the Capitol like their own hype house, using the stature of their office for clout.”
This is not an argument against, you know, news: If something big happens, a lot of us want and deserve to know the what and the why. At Mother Jones, there are a few journalists dedicated to exactly this: making sure that you can stay up to date on the big issues where you look to us for coverage.
But there’s only so much now, now, now that anyone can, or should, handle.
We need what some have called “slow journalism,” too—reporting that takes time to tell a story that hasn’t been told and regurgitated hundreds of times before. This, of course, is what Mother Jones was created to do, and it’s what so many of you tell us you look to us for today. And we’re able to do it because we don’t have to try to be a “nonstop opinion machine” to draw clicks or subscriptions.
When Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery and I joined the team, back in the early aughts aka prehistory, MoJo’s journalism mostly operated on a bimonthly magazine timeline, featuring reporting that was sent to the printer six weeks before anyone would ever read it. That was painful for impatient journalists like us, but it also did a great job at forcing you to think longer-term: Which stories will still feel relevant when all of today’s takes have faded? To this day, we treasure that kind of reporting and we’re so thankful that support from readers has let us keep pursuing those deeper stories.
And let’s just acknowledge it: Sometimes we also need just no news at all. Even those of us who live and breathe it. One of the things I most look forward to each Thanksgiving is waking up to a Twitter feed that has slowed to a crawl. It is as if, briefly, the world is not churning up crisis after crisis.
The crises are still out there, but in that brief moment of suspended animation it’s clear that they will get no closer to being fixed if we burn ourselves out. We need that moment to read a book, stare out the window, dance to our favorite music.
We need it, as Dan Rather—who spent a lifetime bringing news to millions—wrote the other day, so that we can come back with a little more strength to make change.
“We get to a point where the exhaustion is itself exhausting. And I firmly believe that the forces who seek to undermine our society, who seek to pit us against each other for their cynical gain, see exhaustion as a potent weapon at their disposal.
Over the course of my career I have covered many protest movements that have ultimately proved successful. And I have found one of the hallmarks for that success is that they are collective actions where members of the group step up to help others when they get exhausted.
We must acknowledge that not everyone can step back from exhaustion. To be able to take a break is its own form of privilege. There are people whose life circumstances never provide respite. But there is also a reason so many of the world’s religions have days of rest and reflection built into the calendar. The human body and mind cannot always be working, or it will cease to work well.
I say all of this not to diminish the challenges we face, quite the opposite. The world needs sustained effort and exertion. But effort and exertion requires energy. And energy requires us to acknowledge, attend to, and forgive our exhaustion.”
That’s what I hope we can all do this week, and beyond: Acknowledge, attend to, and forgive exhaustion, our own or someone else’s. So that we can come back and step up for each other.