As I wrote before, my social circle tends to be people who call themselves liberal and vote Democratic. What is interesting is that although these people tend to be avid followers of news, they are often unaware of important information. They watch the ‘serious’ news programs such as the NewsHour on PBS, they listen to NPR, they watch the Sunday talk shows such as This Week, Meet the Press, and Face the Nation. They disdain Fox News and all its offerings. They subscribe to the New York Times.
How can they devote so much time to learn about the world and yet miss so much? This is an example of Will Rogers’ warning that it isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so, so I want to devote this post to point people to better sources of news.
The idea that I am better informed than many of the people I know sounds arrogant. What makes me think I know any better? Why should anyone take my advice on how to keep up with the news? I can only offer a purely subjective reason and that is when I discuss politics with people who are active and try to be knowledgeable, I find that I not only know everything they know, I also know a lot that they don’t and can tell them that a lot of what they know is simply wrong. This is despite the fact that I don’t think I spend that much more time following the news.
Since I am often asked as to my sources of news, here is my advice on being better informed, for what it is worth.
- Don’t watch the news on broadcast TV or cable. They take up valuable time, the ratio of news to nonsense/gossip/advertisements is tiny, most of it is uniformed and biased commentary focused on the trivial, and they distract your attention from the real news.
- Don’t subscribe to or waste your time reading the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, or any of the so-called national newspapers and newsmagazines.
- If you want a 24-hour international news channel, you are far better off watching Al Jazeera instead of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox. Livestation is a free service that provides live access to a huge array of TV and radio stations from around the world broadcasting in an array of languages and is my source for Al Jazeera. You download the software and can select the sources that you want.
- Your local paper is useful only for local news.
The problem with all these news outlets is that it takes far too much time and effort to find the tiny nuggets of news buried in the mass of rubbish that they put out. Sometimes the most significant fact is buried at the end of a long story. This is why I value blogs. There are good bloggers out there who do have the time and energy to read and watch these news outlets and flag the few items that are newsworthy. So in the end, I do often read articles from these national news outlets but only the worthwhile bits.
For those of you who watch the NewsHour on PBS, you are far better off switching to Democracy Now! which can be found on the radio dial in large parts of the country and in video form online. It has the same format as the NewsHour with an opening segment of news headlines followed by interviews with commentators. The difference is that whereas the NewsHour has the usual predictable panel of beltway analysts who spout conventional wisdom (as suits its corporate sponsors), Democracy Now! has voices that are informed and provide much sharper analysis from a more progressive perspective. They will have on their show unembedded reporters from the wars and progressive commentators who are not beholden to the government.
For mainstream US news, I would recommend the blogs Political Animal and Talking Points Memo as websites that link to news stories in the mainstream media and can point you to key elements. This enables you to get to just the main stories from these mainstream outlets without wasting your time on the huge amounts of rubbish that is there.
Over time, people will find sources that suit them in terms of style and content. But the sites I’ve listed are a good place to start.