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Staying Informed

17% of Americans get no news daily. Zero. From the best that we can gather with that number, that’s 55 million people that don’t know what the fuck is going on. Depressing still, 44% of American adults get their news from Facebook. I take a lot of pride in being informed on what’s going on in the States as well as what’s happening in the world. In a lot of circumstances, it’s really all we can do. This week, we’ve got a bit of a rant and a bit of a call to action. 

There is a myriad of excuses that I hear when it comes to skirting the civic duty of staying informed. I don’t have time, I don’t care, and the news is too depressing are probably the ones I’m most familiar with. I take issue with each of these, and at the risk of sounding condescending (I know it will to at least someone reading this), I think they are all pretty much bullshit excuses. Here’s why:

1. I don’t have time.

Everyone is busy, and some people are busier than others. America has a huge amount of people who are classified as working poor, meaning that they still struggle to make ends meet even though they are employed, sometimes even with multiple jobs. On top of that, people have kids to take care of. The thing is, I still don’t think this is a free pass to walk around completely uninformed. Even taking a half hour out of your day can bring you up to speed on most domestic issues, and another 15 with the most important international stories. Especially when it comes to domestic policy, being informed is the key to using your vote in a way that can improve your circumstances. 

2. I don’t care.

Personally, I have trouble even comprehending this. It’s just lazy. Especially when these issues have a direct impact on your life, like healthcare and tax reform, whether you care or not. Choosing to be uninformed just hurts you in the long run when it’s time for you to vote. It also makes you look like a bit of a bumpkin in conversations if you’re completely clueless about what’s happening around you. Finally, you’re taking a free press for granted when billions of people don’t have the luxury and only know what their governments are spoon-feeding them.

3. The news is too depressing.

Especially recently, there hasn’t been much in current events to celebrate. The news has been grim. However, this should encourage - not deter - more people to keep themselves informed. Learning about what’s happening and why it’s happening is the first step toward the general populace being able to change some of these terrible things. If we choose to be ignorant, then we are willingly giving up any power to have an impact in preventing events we might find unsavory to read about in the future. 

How to Stay Informed

I would be remiss to berate people for not keeping up with current events while not offering any advice on how to do so. An internet connection should make this easy, but the web is dark and full of, dare I say, fake news. And I mean, actual fake news (not the same buzzword used when facts don’t agree with your agenda) - sites with clickbait headlines, measly 500-word articles with zero substance, claims that cannot be independently verified, and a list of “sponsored content” at the bottom longer than the article itself. By following these three tips, you'll guard yourself against this deliberately misleading nonsense and come away well-rounded and well-informed. 

1. Use multiple sources.

When I read my first article on a given topic, the first thing I do afterward is read the same thing from a different source. The main reason I do this is to see if there’s any more information that was left out of the first source. It also helps to glean the facts from different writers as, depending on the style, some are better at conveying the nuts and bolts of a current event while it’s easier to get lost in the narrative style of others. It goes without saying that it’s good practice to use multiple sources in order to identify any biasses as well, which brings me to my next point. 

2. Look for facts rather than biasses.

Relying on multiple sources is like casting a net for sharks. Eventually, you’ll find something that’s overly slanted from the general consensus. It could lean too far to the right, too far to the left, or be trying too hard to find balance on an issue that the facts bear out as one-sided. When you identify these biasses, you usually don’t need to look far to find a hidden agenda. For example, perhaps the owner of a publication has a large amount of stock in the fossil fuels industry. It wouldn’t be surprising, then, to discover articles on that site with misinformation about climate change because it supports their financial interests. This is just a hypothetical example, but you’d be surprised to find out how common this is and how pathetically easy it is to uncover it. 

3. Read, rather than watching political commentary. 

It’s true that reading does require more time and attention than clicking on CNN, MSNBC, or FOX in the background. I’m guilty of this sometimes, especially if I’m in a rush, but this should not be anyone’s primary news source. Live political commentary leaves too many gaps for impassioned opinions that stray away from the facts. Also, there’s the ratings problem. These behemoth networks are businesses first and foremost, and they will report on whichever story in whichever manner that achieves the highest ratings. Yes, Trump sounds like an idiot when he tries to pronounce Puerto Rico with an accent. I don’t need to listen to people talk about it from behind a desk for an hour to know this. Written news is not immune to the above, but it’s a lot more difficult to regurgitate useless fluff over and over in a cohesive article.

Where to Start

Below are some publications that get high marks for accuracy and fact-based journalism. I don’t read each of these weekly, but they are my usual rotation. My personal favourite is The Economist because it is so comprehensive in both US domestic issues and international events and politics. If you’re trying to work news into your routine for the first time, I suggest NPR and the BBC as they don’t have paywalls and they are fine sources for American and international current events, respectively. 

The Economist
The Atlantic
Scientific American
National Public Radio (NPR)
The New Yorker
Wire Services (Associated Press, Reuters)
Foreign Affairs
Politico
BBC