Three tips for better news consumption

I regularly hear those around me complain that they hate the media. They hate the manufactured outrage, and they hate the bias, and they hate the self-importance. In response, I’ve seen many people retreat away from the media, consuming less, and thinking themselves more independent thinkers as a result. But this is wrong. In an age of irresponsible media, the consumer must take that responsibility on themselves. Otherwise they risk becoming vulnerable to the whims of the cultural consensus, robbed of the ability to become independent and informed thinkers.

There’s no magic answer to making the news work for everyone, but here’s a few things that’ll make your experience much more worthwhile.

1. Try a new medium

There’s a significant body of research suggesting that no two people are likely to consume their news the same way. And there’s not necessarily any reason why the way you currently consume it is the best way for you. I’ve met a number of people who have gotten their news through the same channels for their whole lives, and many have always treated it as a tiresome chore. But a simple, small change to the way your media diet can quickly become a massive relief.

The majority of people still rely on television for their news, but the internet is making it easier than ever to get any medium of your choice. You can access previously niche print outlets like The Atlantic on-demand. Podcasts have made it simple to listen to your choice of political content without relying on the whims of traditional radio programming. And what about those traditional mediums? Subscribing for digital access to a premier outlet like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal often means that print access is a small jump in price. If you’re one of those people who prefers a physical book to a Kindle, ask yourself: have you ever tried a physical newspaper? Isn’t there a good chance you’d enjoy it? Not to mention the variety of political programming on offer on the radio if you find yourself in your car often.

If you’re still relying on the same old news consumption habits you always have, the best guide is your preferences throughout the rest of your life. Enjoy reading? Why on Earth would you not take advantage of how journalism is still predominantly a written enterprise? Enjoy relaxing in a comfy chair listening to music? Try throwing on a podcast instead once a week.

2. Make it easy on yourself

I get a national politics broadsheet newspaper delivered to me every day. It is a cumbersome, but detailed, way to get the news, and I prefer to read it whenever I can. But I don’t force myself to read it if I don’t get a chance throughout the day. Sometimes I’m busily jumping between trains on a windy day, and there is just no reason to read a massive broadsheet at the station when a news app on my phone will do.

The lesson of this anecdote is simple: No matter what you originally plan for, the important thing is that you’re keeping yourself informed as painlessly as possible. You may find that you’d love to listen to an hour-long podcast every afternoon to catch up on the day’s headlines, but you don’t actually have that spare hour to spend on the more luxurious option. Rather than planning out an intimate, idealised scenario for your news consumption, become aware of all the different channels through which news travels to people, and make use of them as appropriate.

If you find yourself forgetting to spend time seeking the news, there are an abundance of options for having the news delivered directly to you. Practically every major outlet on the planet is on Facebook and Twitter in some form, and many are increasingly trying more innovative ways to connect with their audience on social media. Push notifications and email newsletters will deliver the day’s headlines straight to you without a moment of thought on your part.

3. Spend some time on big ideas

Our age is an age of fast paced news. Constant scandal and drama dominates the front page, and it can hard to remember how important it is to stop and gain some perspective. Just as important as staying informed on the minutiae of the daily news is the necessary wisdom to interpret it and understand the world.

It is a great idea to look into longer-form magazines like The Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine, and National Review to sharpen your understanding of the underlying contest of ideas at the heart of the news. Seek out information about history and philosophy, there is a plethora of information out there for those who go searching. Documentaries, podcasts, books; some context and perspective can make the normally frustrating task of daily news-watching a fulfilling and useful experience.

Bonus section: How does the author get their news?

As a reader by nature, I’ve always preferred the detail and nuance of the written wings of the media. Although throughout 2015 and 2016 I was a cable news junkie (for good reason). I’m also Australian, not American, so I have to be careful to consume a mix of international and local sources. Here’s a quick list of how I get my news on a regular basis:

Daily newspapers/websites:

  • The Australian; the aforementioned broadsheet I get in physical print, an Australian conservative-leaning politics-focused national paper.
  • The Australian Financial Review; an Australian neoliberal-centre finance and politics-focused national paper.
  • The Hill; an American centre-left establishment leaning politics focused national paper, focused on the minutiae of governing in Washington, such as Congress.
  • The Wall Street Journal; an American neoliberal-centre-right finance and politics-focused national paper.
  • The New York Times; needs no introduction, should be noted that I no longer read its sister in notoriety in the Washington Post, I’ve found the combination too sycophantic towards the urban establishment to go anywhere near it personally.
  • The Associated Press; a non-partisan establishment collection of independent journalists covering a variety of topics.
  • Reuters; a non-partisan, details focused international news organisation covering a variety of topics.

Longer-form magazines/websites:

  • The Atlantic; a left-leaning liberal politics and “ideas” magazine which is exceptionally well respected for its editorial quality and thought-provoking range of topics.
  • National Review; a hard right-leaning politics magazine which explicitly exists to spread conservative ideas, and is currently the refuge for the never-Trump movement.
  • New York Magazine; a left-leaning broad pop-culture and politics magazine.
  • Commentary Magazine; a centre-right-leaning religion and politics magazine.

I consume a range of podcasts associated mainly with the above magazines (Jonah Goldberg is lit fam). I also occasionally listen to The Ben Shaprio show to get a sense of the popular conservative zeitgeist, and am happy to throw on any of my local TV stations to round out my diet.

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