This post is by George Altshuler ’11. George, a former lead editor of MiddBlog, just finished an internship with Tikkun magazine in Berkeley, Ca. He’s now living in San Francisco and teaching English at San Quentin State Prison.
The cliché you hear the most about our demographic’s news consumption is that we get all our news from “The Daily Show.”
Contrary to the criticism in this cliché, however, many people in our demographic care about the news and follow it. But we also understand that we live in an era in which “The Daily Show” is a good source for news and the paper New York Times is increasingly obsolete (unless you can wrestle one way in Proctor). In this era, the news doesn’t literally arrive on one’s doorstep, and it’s important to be proactive about finding ways to follow the news.
One starting point for following the news in this digital age is to understand how this era of turbulence for journalism actually makes this a great time to be a consumer of news. The decline of traditional media (newspapers have lost half their revenue in the past five years) and the advent of new technologies have opened the door to a myriad new news sources and tools for distributing the news. And, for now at least, traditional journalism still exists. The key to being a good news consumer is learning to take advantage of all that is being offered to us.
In this first of three posts on keeping up with the news, I’ll provide suggestions for assembling your Media Mix — the different types of sources you’l need to successfully follow the news:
- It’s good to have at least one source that works like the front page of a major newspaper by assigning importance to stories and exposing you to important stories you may not have otherwise found. Traditional news websites like The New York Times, Reuters, and The Washington Post work well in this role. Aggregators like Google News and Memeorandum that use algorithms to find and feature the internet’s most popular stories are another option.
- It can be easy to lose track of local news both in the disconnected bubble that is Middlebury College and in potentially transient post-college life. Don’t be intimidated by the boredom of write-ups on that school board meeting or the sensationalism of TV crime reporting; learn to selectively read local news the way you read national news. Look for local news online or in print through a newspaper, on TV, or over the radio — if you’re still at Middlebury, be sure to check out the Addy Indy, which is a great example of excellent local journalism. (Editor’s Note: It’s okay to follow MiddBlog post-graduation as a local news source, too!) And don’t discount local TV news: once you’ve graduated, you may find it surprisingly tempting to plop down on your couch after a long day and watch the news. You won’t be alone: on a typical day 78 percent of Americans say they watch the local news, according this FCC report.
- Find blogs you like, and stick with them. Blogs are important because they provide different viewpoints and because they publish stories that don’t fit into popular media narratives. They are also valuable because they provide a perspective you can depend on as news evolves over time. I suggest finding blogs that address your specific interests and also following more general blogs. If you don’t know where to start with blogs that are specific to your interests, google the names of figures that interest you and keep an eye out for whom people are citing.
- Here are just a few general interest bloggers I recommend if you’re looking for a place to start: Andrew Sullivan: Read Sullivan’s blog over time and you’ll witness the thinking of a brilliant and emotional man evolve over time. He has a PhD in political philosophy from Harvard, self-identifies as a conservative, supports Obama, and is gay, Catholic, British and HIV-positive. Ta-Nehisi Coates: Like Sullivan, Coates lays it all out on the table, and this blog allows you to watch a thinker think. Read it for general political coverage with a focus on racial issues, sports and the occasional live-blog of a visit to a Civil War battle site. Talking Points Memo: This blog/news site provides coverage of national politics from a progressive perspective. Ezra Klein: This uber-wonk covers economic news and national politics. I also recommend his daily morning email newsletter, but more on that in my next post.
- As you develop a Media Mix that keeps you up to date, it is important to take a step back and enjoy some long form journalism. The most traditional way to get long form journalism is to pick up a magazine like The New Yorker or the Economist. Newsy NPR podcasts like This American Life and podcasts of shows like Fresh Air are great for keeping you informed and engaged while cooking, driving or walking from Bi Hall to Twilight. Finally, an integral part of learning about what’s going on in the world is going for even longer form journalism and making time to read books on current affairs.
- The digital age famously enables people to connect over very specific topics, and some of these very specific topics are very specific areas. Take advantage of this and plug into hyperlocal journalism. This means journalism about your specific neighborhood or small town. This type of journalism usually comes in the form of blogs, community forums and twitter feeds. Talk to people in your neighborhood to find them, search for them on google or seek them out through the websites of established figures or organizations.
Check back next week for another “Life Skills” post by George on how to use technology to keep up with all these news sources.