Every day just after morning colors nearly every sailor goes through a predictable routine; they login to their NMCI machines to read the news. Those sailors then use the information they gathered to formulate their opinions, basises, and worldview.
The problem is, the information we consume on the internet is not free. Someone must pay for an author, photographer, editor and hosting platform in order for us to consume our “free” news. Unfortunately, that information is paid for with assets even more valuable than money; a sailor’s time, attention and mental capacity.
In preparation for this article, and to prove my point, I did a quick search of Facebook, Navy Times, and MSN news only to “educate myself” about violence and perversion on a local military base, drunken British Sailors in Florida, celebrity shenanigans and what my doctor doesn’t want me to know about losing belly fat. While I make no value judgment against learning about these topics, I can say this information will not help me become a better Naval Officer, citizen or leader.
For a moment imagine our sailors attending a college supported by ad revenue. Text books would be filled with ads promising you A+ grades without studying. The big screen behind the professor would run videos of the latest night club on campus and the professor would need to pause every 20 minutes to talk about the virtues of mattresses, underwear, or home meal kits. We deal with the same reality when consuming news.
Furthermore, just like drinking salt water, free information online is not designed for us to take a sip, be refreshed, and go about our day. Rather, just like anyone who has spent way too long on their Facebook feed knows, free information is purposely engineered for us to want more and more while never becoming fully satisfied. This free information business model can only survive if it entices you to read free content and then does everything it can to distract you from that content.
Our sailors time is much too valuable for that.
If we expect our sailors to think critically, process information logically, and be leaders of today we must first provide them with information that educates them rather than simply distracting them with consumer-focused ads.
Using the same principles that were used when developing the Navy Reading List, I propose that also develop a “Navy News List”. This subscription-based list would be paid for by the Navy and provide Sailors ready access to thoughtful and analytical journalism. Rather than starting my day being inundated with celebrity gossip, crime and simple tricks to save on my car insurance, I could have the option of reading about Kim Jong-un’s negotiation style, or an analysis of Russian Exercise activity, historical fishing trends in the South China Sea along with high quality news within the 24 hour news cycle, all free from distracting content.
Examples of these news sources could include the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Atlantic, Smithsonian, Economist, Sun Magazine, NPR, Naval Proceedings and any other high-quality journalism which is supported by subscriptions rather than simply adds. Using the subscription-based model our sailors would have the opportunity for high-quality lifelong learning and access to quality journalism, free from intrusive ads and with content specifically designed for life long learners rather than endless titillation and swiping.
While the monetary cost of this subscription-based news service would be high, the intellectual cost of failing to do so is much higher..
CDR John Laney is a Naval Academy Graduate, EOD Officer and currently serving as the Commander of Mine Countermeasures Division THREE ONE. He writes for DODReads.com and has been on a news fast since Jan 2018.