We Should Rank the News

Erik Hagerman might be your hero.

He’s 53 and lives on a pig farm in rural Ohio.


But that’s not what makes him special. Immediately after the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Hagerman turnrned off all access to current events.

Other than following the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team (which he watches on mute), his only touch with daily life outside of his immediate surroundings is reading weather reports and following real estate listings.

The New York Times called Mr. Hagerman the most ignorant man in America. And he likes it that way.

Hagerman used to follow the news. As a corporate leader at Nike, he was just as plugged in as the next guy. But he chose to check out of corporate life a while back to focus on art, and then he checked out altogether. The fact that, because of his wealth, he got to choose this course, makes him controversial.

I don’t agree with him. Hiding from current events means avoiding information, thoughts, and conversations that can shape your views as a citizen. His actions make him unqualified to vote, and yet he can do so if he wants.

But I totally get why he wants to block out the world!

I avoid President Trump’s tweets, as well as the rejoinders and analysis from newscasters. I’m much more interested in actions and policies.

I skim most of the stories in the papers, skipping over the veiled editorializing that passes for news. Mr. Hagerman chose to check out because he was distraught over Trump’s election. I want to check out because I’m tired of reporters – in print and on the air – foisting their opinions on me.

Maybe we should take a different tack.

As consumers, we have the power to sway opinions. We rank restaurants on Yelp!, service providers on Google Reviews, and we get hounded by everyone from auto dealers to doctors to complete surveys.

We should develop an app with a ranking system for news stories. Not a simple up/down, or one through five, but a real ranking system.

We could evaluate stories in real time on three positive metrics – new information, relevance to topic, and probability that the information will add to our understanding – on a scale from one (not very useful or new) to nine (totally awesome information). Then we could add a fourth category, political slant, where total bias gets you a zero and even-handed or no bias gets a nine.

As I read news stories online, I could simply add my ranking afterward. Perhaps the news is old (1), but the topic is on point (8) and adds a dimension to the conversation (8), and yet the writing is heavily tilted politically (1). The score would be 1881.

You might be thinking this leads to bias by the reader, but we can handle that. If the readers are a reflection of the nation, then normalizing the results should eliminate bias. The reported score would be the median, not the average.

Then we could take it a step farther, posting each number in a color to reflect dispersion (how far the answers strayed from the median). We could use green for tightly clustered results, showing most people agree, and then rising red as answers disperse from the median, showing dissension.

After just a few hundred readers, each story should have a ranking that accurately tells the rest of us if the news piece is worth our time, and what to watch out for, along with a mixture of color to let us know how much readers agree on the review.

New information is big and quick, so a high first number should grab our attention. If the second and third numbers are high, then we can take our time and circle back, giving the article more thought. If the last number is low, then we know to read with a skeptical eye.

I’m not sure how this would make us any money. Maybe it doesn’t. But perhaps, in this politicized environment where shouting seems to be the only volume, such an app would help me maintain my sanity.

Otherwise, I might end up living on a pig farm in rural Ohio.

Rodney Johnson

Rodney’s investment focus tends to be geared towards trends that have great disruptive potential but are only beginning to catch on to main-stream adapters. Trends that are likely to experience tipping points in the next 5 years. His work with Harry Dent – studying how people spend their money as they go through predictable stages of life and how that spending drives our economy – helps he and his subscribers to invest successfully in any market.