Ask DifferentJim: Keeping Up with The News

From “Jeff in Jersey”

I have a pretty busy life and I have not been keeping up with the news. Is that important? Can’t I just live without hearing people droning on about stocks or murders? If I should stay on top of the news, how can I do that with my schedule?

Hello Jeff! 

Thank you for the question.  Yes, it is important to keep up on the news, for a variety of reasons.  We cannot be everywhere and know all that is going on at all times.  We know our little part of the world really well but there is so much more.  

There is more to news than government and politics.  Having said that, the government directly impacts your everyday life.  Everything from interest rates, taxes, military action to maintaining roads and monitoring the safety of food at local restaurants.  But, there is no way for you to keep track of all that is going on at the local, state, and federal levels while still living your own life.  Journalists serve as our eyes, ears, and, sometimes, voices in the government.  Editors assess all of the reporting and determine which stories are the most important for most people to know about.  We expect journalists to raise a stink if something fishy is going on in the government.

Outside of government and politics, journalists help us know what is going on including natural disasters, health emergencies, new scientific findings, sporting events that you care about or will impact you (traffic), and so on.

One thing to keep in mind (and many people get confused, even Presidents), is that there is a difference between news journalism and opinions/editorials.  Be sure you know the difference.  The news reports facts as best they know it.  Sometimes, our understanding of the facts changes over time but real news does not add opinions into the story.  Editorials and opinion stories take some of the facts in the news and evaluates them and makes judgements.

In general, you have newspapers, radio, television, and online news.  The online news may be extensions of newspapers, radio, or television but can also be news aggregators that pull from all of those sources.  

You should make sure that you are getting local news, national news, and international news.  You should focus on high-quality mainstream news sources.  At the local level, you are kind of stuck with what is available.  Larger markets will have local newspapers, radio news, and television news.  Newspapers are good for more in-depth analysis of news and for more complex topics.  Radio news is good for up-to-the-minute local news but it is usually not very in-depth.  If your area has a news radio station or an NPR-affiliate station, they may provide local news headlines at least once per hour.  If you have local television stations, you can get a 30-minute newscast several times a day.  I will say that getting local news is probably the toughest of the three.

For national news, the newspaper “of record” has always been The New York Times.  The Times has very high-quality standards and is reliable. It is not perfect but probably the best.  Second only to the Times for national news, in my opinion, is The Washington Post.  They also both have excellent websites that are updated around the clock but require a subscription to read more than a handful of articles each month.

For television, there are the big three broadcast network news (ABC, NBC, and CBS).  There is also PBS Newshour which is the nightly news on PBS stations.  For cable news, I would stick with CNN.  Just keep in mind that CNN fills up a lot of their airtime with opinions.  But it is really good for breaking news.  I would avoid sources that have biases such as MSNBC and Fox News.  These are almost entirely opinion outlets.  All of these television news sources also have often-updated websites.

For radio, NPR News is an excellent source.  Your local station will likely add local news to the end of the hourly news updates from NPR.  You local stations may be affiliated with CBS or ABC News with updates on the hour. The hourly updates are not very thorough but are updated frequently and can provide you with a quick overview of the most important news.

Internationally, for English-speakers, you can’t BBC News.  You can subscribe to a BBC World Service podcast.  Some local NPR stations will also play an hour of World Service at least once per day.

You can also follow news agencies that sell stories to all of the other outlets (newspapers, television, and radio).  There is the Associated Press (AP) and Bloomberg in the US, and Reuters in the UK.

Finally, there are news aggregators online.  These are sites like Google News, Yahoo News, and Flipboard.  One caution with these sites is that you can select what types of news you want to see which may keep you from seeing some important news.  

The important thing is to have a strategy.  For example, I tend to listen to NPR News  in the morning (Morning Edition), listen to local news headlines on the way to work, and will check out the Washington Post (online) at some point during the day, such as lunch.  I will check in with or Google News briefly from time-to-time throughout the day.  I think I need to add more international news to my diet so I have been trying to listen to BBC World Service on the way home or while doing dishes at night. It really doesn’t take as long as it sounds to keep up to date.  I just try to get news from a variety of quality sources and try to avoid going down editorial rabbit holes until I have some time to do so.

Well, Jeff, I hope that helps.

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