It’s easy to get sucked down an online rabbit hole. Who hasn’t Googled a topic and looked up a half hour later looking at something completely different? Kevin Roose in the New York Times has a big profile of a man who became radicalized through his passive, and largely algorithmic, consumption of political YouTube videos. The whole story needs to be read to be believed.

There are a lot threads in the piece, but the thing to take away is the importance of being more conscious about your consumption of media and specifically the news. Very little of what you seen online is there as a public service. As JC Parets at All Star Charts puts it:

If you still think the media is there to provide you with useful information, there is little I can do to help you. It’s 2019. They’re only there to sell you Buicks and razors and whatever else they can shove down your throat.

You have two choices: You can just take it until your punch drunk or you can take what you consume into your own hands. It’s up to you.

One of the ways the media helps sell product is through “the list” or cutely “the listicle.” It seems harmless enough, but as Alex Riley writing at TEBI notes:

In a market where investors are so confused by the multitude of fund choices, they look for guidance. Any guidance. A top 50 list is NOT a de facto list of the BEST funds for you. It’s a funnel into products that need to be sold. You’re being sold to. It’s marketing.

One of the best things marketers, and by extension, the media can get is a straight shot at your attention. In the smartphone age that is most effective via notifications. Josh Brown at The Reformed Broker writes:

Consume your news the way you consume your food. You decide when you need a meal or want a snack, and then you go get it…When you want to know the news, you know where to get it, you don’t need the news coming to you and pinging your screen. Don’t be a lab rat. You decide when and what you’ll consume, they don’t get to decide that for you.

That being said, the media can (and do) play an important role. Just because some (or much) of it is not necessarily relevant to your life doesn’t mean the rest of it doesn’t matter. Tony Isola writing at A Teachable Moment notes how the situation facing teachers and the 403(b) plans is only now getting the coverage it deserves. He writes:

Fiduciary responsibility to capitalism is becoming rarer and rarer in corporate boardrooms and media platforms.

Investors need to know the rules of the game in order to compete. Giving up isn’t an option.

Distinguishing between what is relevant and actionable versus what is not, is an important skill for investors. Is what you are reading going to matter a week from from now, let alone a year from now? Seth Levine at The Integrating Investor makes the distinction between information that is persistent and that which is man-made. The latter being “news” that is at best transitory and at worst contradictory. He writes:

In my opinion, it’s wiser to build one’s investment portfolio on the metaphysically given. Here, one can be more confident in—and hence more fully capitalize on—the persistence of the causal relationships underlying a given price change. Quite simply, the shape-shifting man-made is not suitable bedrock upon which to build one’s wealth.

Your time is more valuable than your wealth. Wealth can be earned and replenished. Time cannot. So the next time you begin reading the news take a deep breath and focus. Because the time you spend reading the news will be at best, spent, at worst it will actively undermine your financial goals.