Quick lessons from John Oliver’s method to avoid drowning in the news

John Oliver presents the sixth season of Last Week Tonight.
John Oliver presents the sixth season of Last Week Tonight.
Image: Peter Kramer/HBO
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You may have noticed there is a lot of news these days. Comedian John Oliver has, too, and he has some tips on how to deal with it.

In 2014, when Oliver started his weekly show on HBO, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, news moved at a much slower pace. At the time, he had the feeling that he was always late on the news, he told reporters during an event to discuss the sixth season of his show, premiering on Feb. 13. Fast-forward five years, and much of the country is likely feeling the same way—every day.

The way Oliver’s team deals with the news onslaught offers a helpful roadmap not just for news editors, but for overwhelmed citizens. Here are a few of their pointers on how to avoid feeling like so much matters, that nothing really does.

It’s OK to be late

Don’t worry if you feel like you aren’t caught up with the latest—you’re hardly alone, says Oliver. Make peace with it.

“Everybody is late to everything,” he says. “You can be on all day every day and you’re still technically late, because something that happens this morning now seems like a long time ago.”

Pick your fights

One big factor behind the avalanche of news since 2016 has been Donald Trump. Whether intentional or not, the president’s biggest stroke of political genius is perhaps his ability to produce such an enormous, relentless volume of tweets, threats, and thoughts, that it becomes nearly impossible for his opponents—and the public in general—to focus on any one thing.

The antidote is taking the time to choose what matters to you—and let the rest pass you by.

“It’s a constant balance you’re trying to strike in your head,” says the comedian. “What single droplet of the firehose that’s being projected at you every day is worth slowing down and talking about.”

If it matters—it matters

When dealing with major news that’s been in the cycle for a while, Last Week Tonight’s newsroom asks one key question: “Is not talking about this in any way an editorial decision?”

As an example, Oliver mentioned the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, where a woman was killed by far-right protesters. The event had been widely covered, but the show’s staff decided to discuss it anyway, because passing on it might have seemed like a deliberate attempt of minimizing its importance, says Oliver.

This might be the ultimate test on whether it’s too late to care for an issue: If something seems too important to skip, then it probably is, and you should try to keep your attention on it.