Meredith Minnick does not want Tucker Carlson in her happy place.
Though cable news is a staple at many fitness centers, the gym chain Life Time Athletic, where Minnick is a member, officially banned those channels from its large screens Dec. 28. (Through early January, it has been making the technological changes to program the TVs; its last regional location reset Tuesday.) The fitness company explained in a statement that the new policy followed members' complaints, and was, in essence, a decision about wellness.
"We believe this change is consistent with the desires of the overall membership as well as our desire to uphold a positive, healthy-way-of-life environment," the statement read. The Minnesota gym chain's ban on cable news made national headlines after it was reported by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Local news channels are still permissible, and members are free, of course, to stream CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News on their smartphones or tablets. Life Time's statement also described the cable news ban as part of the company's "commitment to provide family-oriented environments free of consistently negative or politically charged content."
Minnick, who runs half-marathons, says she would often catch cable news while training for events. She finds she hasn't missed the channels during her workouts. "I think it's a really positive place to be," she said of her gym in Fort Washington. The chain has two other local gyms, in Mount Laurel and Wayne (called the King of Prussia location), with another set to open this spring in Ardmore.
Turning gyms into no-news zones seems to be a sign of the times. Last week, Facebook announced its decision to overhaul its main feed so users see less journalism and more content shared by family and friends. On Thanksgiving, the Hill published an essay recommending Americans unplug for the holiday. The author, a psychologist, wrote, "And how could we not feel jacked up with the conflicts in Washington, tragic news events like mass shootings, and stories of workplace harassment?"
Calls for wellness and self-care, which are trending nationally, have often underscored recent media detoxes.
Robert Thompson, a media studies expert at Syracuse University, has heard of example after example of current events consumers deciding to disengage from disturbing news. He sees Life Time's decision as a reminder of "how completely saturated nearly all public spaces are by media." Americans are confronted with the news while waiting for the doctor, while pumping gas, while riding in a cab.
"I think there are a substantial amount of people who would like at least a few places where they're not exposed to it," Thompson said. "That's a perfectly sound desire to have."
Reactions to the pace and tone of the news these days, he said, are mixed and complicated. For as many viewers as there are who don't want to see MSNBC or Fox at the gym, there are just as many others who can't stop watching it.
The Fort Washington facility is far larger than a typical gym; it's more of a fitness mall, with pools (indoor and outdoor), basketball courts, and a separate studio for Pilates.
Off the lobby to the left is a spa/salon. To the right is a cafe with windows that advertise, "If it's here, it's healthy." Minnick selected Life Time for its child-care facility and kids' programming. She hadn't complained about the television content, but when she learned of the change, it made sense to her.
One day a couple of months back, she recalled, she was on the treadmill when sexual-assault allegations were consuming the headlines of the day. Right by her, she noticed a father and son. The boy seemed to be 10 or 11.
"He was old enough to be able to read the close caption[ing], and I just thought, 'Would I want my daughter being exposed?' You can't even watch the news these days without have these tough conversations with your kids that they may not be ready for."
Lisa Brown, another Fort Washington member, also described the change as healthy.
"At first, I was like, what? And then I was pleasantly surprised at how I felt when I was there," said Brown. Overall, she senses less negativity now. She takes part in group fitness, where peers would make political comments, and by her view, "You just can't go there."
In this sense, she believes, gyms should be Switzerland.
"Even trying to tune it out, I felt like it was there," Brown said of the intense news cycles. "I don't want to be rubbed the wrong the way because I see something on the TV, and I think that happens subconsciously in some ways."
Psychologists have acknowledged that prolonged viewings of distressing coverage can take a mental toll. Elana Newman, who researches traumatic stress at the University of Tulsa, recommends monitoring one's news consumption and making mindful decisions on content and timing.
"It's very interesting that we're at a time where we're talking about how the news is so upsetting to us," said Newman. "At what point is it about self-care vs. the cost of embracing the content of the news and making the decisions of a citizen?"
Daniel Grennon, who also works out at the Fort Washington gym, isn't really a fan of cable news, but she also thinks that gym members should try being "less sensitive."