Hi, my name is Richa Syal, I’m an independent journalist based in the United Arab Emirates. I cover stories of environmental exploitation, whether that relates to illegal wildlife trade, unsustainable practices in fisheries or corporations hurting our forests. When I’m not reporting, I try to participate in marine conservation work, with organizations such as Azraq and the UAE Dolphin Project.
In times like these, I often get asked how I consume my news without feeling a sense of impending doom. It’s an important question that requires a thoughtful answer, which I didn’t have -- until I met a falcon. In the UAE, falcons are a sacred and patriotic symbol, and their use by Bedouin hunters dates back hundreds of years, making the falcon one of the most important animals in the country. On a recent trip to a conservation reserve, I realized how these incredible creatures can teach us about how we can consume the news.
Trust is the most vital way to bond
The partnership between a falconer and its bird is very close, and there is a great amount of trust shared between them. It was a necessity to survive in the hostile desert, and to establish strong hunting practices. This relationship is harder to create between news organizations and audiences, but it’s important to identify what we’re expecting from where we get our news. For falcons, this is a food-based relationship; for audiences, it may be transparency, diversity or integrity. Look for platforms that offer those shared missions, establish expectations, and be open to engaging with their work -- if it’s worthwhile, that bond will form.
When ‘out of sight, out of mind’ can work
This saying comes from falconry. Falcons wear a hood or ‘burka’ in Arabic, to keep calm. Birds don’t have an imagination so by covering their eyesight they are oblivious to the outside world. I use this imagery when asked how I avoid feeling burnout from reading a constant spate of negative news. As journalists, we tend to habitually check the news on devices which can increase our stress and anxiety. I establish moments where I completely shut out from news consumption, and moments when I can thoughtfully engage. For me, I chime out during my mornings, on walks and most of the weekend and curiously tune in usually an hour before bed most days. Being dutifully news-informed and prioritizing your health is a careful balance that takes time to maintain.
Don’t get ‘fed up’
Here’s another saying whose origins come from falcons. When ‘fed up’ it means that the bird is no longer hungry and has no incentive to hunt. They’re uninterested and turn away from the falconer. It’s easy for us to get equally fed up with the news, given it’s constant and demanding presence in our lives. But, keeping engaged with what is going on in the world is a privilege and, to some, a responsibility. I argue staying informed helps to develop a critical mind, and can be a seminal source for empowerment, knowledge and solutions. Unlike the falcon, consume in moderation and at your own pace, with pieces that you can digest, but don’t leave entirely once you’re full!
How to hunt in a vast desert
Sight is a falcon’s best asset. Theirs is about 8 times stronger than in humans. In the Arabian Peninsula, a falcon’s ability to fly high above a barren desert surface and scour for hares or bustards made them indispensable for Bedouin. Seeking out things of value in this environment, to me, is akin to sifting through fact and fiction within a landscape of disinformation. Part of mindful news consumption is the ability to find credible information. For example, checking who wrote the article, and understanding when and why it was written, can help. Asking yourself where the information was posted, and what the purpose of the content may be can aid in helping you creating better news habits. More information on how to spot fake news can be read here and here.
Be everywhere, literally
Falcons are found everywhere in the world except Antarctica, and your news consumption should be too. If you’re passionate about the climate crisis, look into the reporting from countries within the global south, where we know communities are already being hardest hit. Expand your reach to read local stories from local voices in independent outlets. Follow journalists that are on the frontlines of whatever you’re keen to learn more about, be it conservation, migration, development, public health, you name it. We often see Western media as the dominant force of authority for information, and in many cases, that is not true. Take the time to ensure that your news is coming from a diverse set of sources, and you’ll feel much more balanced and confident in the information you’re taking in.