News, and other vices

The lens the news media trains on the world is so narrow, that it invariably illuminates one small slice of it while distorting the rest of the picture. The media thus not only reports on reality, but helps shape it. For what we read in the news colors our perception of life — our beliefs about the state of our country and fellow human beings. The result is a perspective that is grimly pessimistic and cynical. Though a lot of things in our family and little community seem to be going just fine, the world as a whole appears to be going to pot.

Source: Why Do We Follow the News?

The above-quoted article takes a good hard look at why people actually read the news. I definitely see myself in some of the descriptions.

Over the past year I’ve become very deliberate about how I consume news. I never  really wrote out a set of guidelines, but if I had I guess they would have looked like this:

  • No news without context. E.g., no stories about how some congressional representative introduced a horrifying piece of legislation, without also including context about how it will definitely die in subcommittee, just like the last six bills that politician proposed. This rule alone pretty much rules out getting news from Facebook, Twitter, or other other social media. But just to make it explicit…
  • No news from Social Media. News on social media is generally more about spreading outrage than anything else. “Radical politician known for appalling statements makes appalling statement” is not news. I’ve drastically pared-down who I follow, and on Facebook I’ve aggressively blocked outrage-mongering “news” sources that friends sometimes link to. At this point I only see occasional news stories in my feeds, and they are usually from “mainline” sites like the Washington Post that I haven’t blocked.
  • No news apps or sites. In other words, no news from sources that I can endlessly refresh for an endless stream of pasteurized process news-like product.

Instead, I now get 90% of my world news from a set of carefully selected email newsletters. Why email? Because when I’m done with an email, I’m done. There’s no refreshing an email for yet another non-story, and another, and another…

I’ve tried a number of these newsletters, and winnowed my subscriptions down to a set with the following qualities:

  • They are curated and tell a story. None of my subscriptions are auto-generated lists of story links. Yes, they all link to further reading. But they are all letters written by real human beings, in a conversational tone meant for other human beings.
  • They include the essentials in the email itself. I’ve dropped any subscriptions that consisted only of tantalizing headlines.
  • They make a point of including context. Either in the summary itself, or with links to solid backgrounder pieces that put current developments in perspective.

At present, my subscriptions include:

  • The NYT Now Daily Briefing
  • Vox Sentences (sign-up field is at the bottom of the page)
  • NextDraft
  • I’ve recently added the Washington Posts’s Daily 202. This one is exceptionally well-written, but also exceptionally long and focused on detailed US political wokery. It’s still in its probationary period.

It is true that none of these sources expose me to the latest breaking unconfirmed viral shaky cell-phone video of an outrageous thing happening that I should be outraged about and tell all my friends so they can be outraged as well. It also means I don’t get to read a lot of filler pieces on how the sun is expected to once again rise, complete with “balance” from an anti-sunlight spokesman.

Somehow, I get by.

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  1. I share your frustration in finding a news source. Have you tried the Economist? No publication is perfect but for me the Economist does a good job of presenting a broad view of weekly news topics ranging from elections in Taiwan, to the Flint Michigan water contamination case.

    1. Do they have an email newsletter?

      1. They do but I think you have to subscribe to the digital edition to get the email newsletter.

  2. I know I for one am guilty as charged! And every time I am reminded, I pause, and then go right back to doing it! It’s insidious. I’ve been looking for suggestions of reliable news sources, so your short list will help. I will try to keep my obnoxious viral meme reposting down to a minimum in future! (But–but–it’s so outrageous!) Can I at least post Tina Fey’s latest hilarious parody of ridiculous Sarah Palin and Trump? 😉

    1. Tina Fey is always welcome!

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