Ted Rall: Why and How to Follow Your Daily News

BreakingModern — You’ve got to follow your daily news, from wherever you get it. Here are all the reasons why you need the news, how you’ll benefit (big time!) and how to follow the news every day for maximum impact.

As a person who takes pride in staying informed, I’m often asked what news sources I read and watch, as well as how I separate the truth from the lies. The sad fact is, far too few Americans follow even basic news sources like network TV or their daily paper, and only a tiny minority are as knowledgeable about politics and current events as the average citizen in most other countries.

Reading the news

Given the United States’ disproportionately large influence on the rest of the world economically, militarily, politically and culturally — English replaced French as the globe’s de facto lingua franca in less than a century, because of us — Americans have a moral duty as well as a practical need to know what’s going on. Ahmed Rashid’s 2000 book Taliban sold a few thousand copies of its initial printing; if the couple of million Americans who bought it after searching for the word on 9/11 had picked it up earlier, 3,000 Americans and several hundred thousand Iraqis and Afghans might still be alive.

            Q: Why does the news matter to me?

A: News reporting is usually the most-toxic blend imaginable: simultaneously boring and sensationalistic. People prone to anxiety find many sources of journalism depressingly disempowering: that’s bound to happen when you hear, say, that a highly infectious disease with a high mortality rate might soon come to the U.S., or, for example, that a well-armed, highly-trained, wealthy mega-terrorist army is chopping off people’s heads and torturing children to death in a country we just spent more than a decade fighting in, yet there’s nothing we can do about it.

Yeah, well, get over yourself and your stupid feelings of impotence.

It’s your moral duty to know what’s going on in Liberia and Iraq and everywhere else. Because, much of the time, it’s your tax dollars making it happen. And if you don’t like your money being misspent, and you’d prefer to pay lower taxes, you’d better get off your ass and demand that the government quit it, already. Oh, and knowledge of the news helps to decide what stocks or funds to put your 401(k) into, whether or not to refinance your mortgage, that kind of crap. Not to mention, those people getting blown up by our/your drones would really appreciate your help, what with them dying and all.

Seems like the least you can do.

If self-interest and human solidarity don’t do it for you, how about this: When people find out you don’t know fuck-all about the world, they will think you’re an idiot. And they’ll be right.

Hence, the biggest reason to keep up with the news is to not be a stupid idiot.

            Q: Which news sources are objective?

A: There’s no such thing as capital-T Truth in journalism. There are obvious biases imposed by corporate ownership and government influence. For example, how much, really, does the BBC want to risk pissing off the British government? On top of the obvious biases are individual reporters and editors’ opinions and perceptions, shaped by their class backgrounds, experiences and personality quirks. Everyone and everything is biased — even, perhaps especially, those who think they’re objective.

            Q: Okay, so which ones are best?

A: What we can do as consumers is seek out a wide variety of sources. Different media: online, TV, radio, print. As Marshall McLuhan (look him up) said, the media is the message. The same story reads/sounds/watches differently depending on how you’re getting it.

We all have different ideologies. If you’re liberal, check out Fox News; if you’re conservative, give The Nation a chance. Get out of your comfort zone. If something scares you, check it out; I read convicted Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s column in Anarchy magazine and find his mind and perspective fascinating (even though I’m always worried when I open mysterious packages).

Consuming the news

Nations report about other nations better. Accuracy is easier to find, especially on politically loaded stories, when a news outlet in Whateverland covers goings-on in Blahblahnistan. Obviously, yes, knowledge of foreign languages helps, but it’s not essential since most nations have English-language news websites. Beware, of course, of outlets whose agenda may be informed by alliances or rivalries. For example, the U.S. media is kinder to Israel and meaner to Russia than either country deserves.

Also: good reporting shows up in surprising places. The New York Post, for example, has some of the best inside-media background reporting (by Keith Kelly) in the business. It also has most NYC stories days before the Times notices it. Be open-minded about your sources.

So about that truth thing. How do we know it?

Think of yourself as a detective: the more witnesses you interview, the more material evidence you collect, the closer you get to learning what really happened. The greater the variety of news sources you consume, the closer you get to objective reality.

Bear in mind, sometimes the truth takes years to come out. Or never does.

So you can’t know everything. But you can figure out a lot. Don’t let the inherent inability to be omniscient stop you from being well-informed.

            Q: What’s the most efficient way to consume news?

A: I read one daily newspaper, The New York Times, daily. In print. Delivered to my door, so I don’t have the running-late-didn’t-have-time-to-pick-it-up excuse. My enviro-conscience screams if I try to recycle it unread. I have to read it. Whether you read a marquis paper like The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post, or your local outlet, subscribe to one print publication.

Why print? Studies have shown — and my personal experience bears it out — that you’ll remember what you read a lot more in print than if you read the same exact stories on a digital device.

That said, I rely on my tablet and smartphone for updates throughout the day. I allow about half a dozen reputable apps to send push notifications to my devices so I know when big stories break. I also have a variety of news apps on my devices: Washington Post, USA Today (great to keep up with super mainstream stuff), Al Jazeera, Russia Today (the closest thing to an official Fourth Estate watchdog that gives the U.S. government a hard time), New York Post, NPR, FOXNews, MSNBC, CNN. I also have Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, but I often find that native advertising and listicles (“14 cute cat photos that will make your toes curl”) shed more clutter than light, so I don’t use them much.

Smart Americans read The New Yorker and The Economist, so you should too.

TV news seems to go through one waxy ear and out the other, but radio is stickier. I listen to NPR. But NPR’s website is even better, because it lets you skip stories you’re not interested in with a great, easy interface. Speaking of radio, check out the Stitcher app. It lets you download podcasts and radio broadcasts while online, then listen to them later, even if you’re disconnected from the Internet. It’s a real boon to subway riders and people traveling to exotic locales.

            Q: Still not sold, don’t care about the news, you can’t make me?

A: Laws change all the time. If you drive a car in California, for example, there are only two ways to learn about a new state law that requires motorists not to come within three feet of a bicyclist. You can veer too close and get pulled over, earning a fine and a chat with a local police officer. Or you can hear or read about it on or in the news. From tax changes to new regulations, governments use the news to keep citizens informed. If citizens choose not to stay current, well, as the cliché goes, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

But it can sure get expensive.

For BMod, I’m .

Image credits: Diego Grez [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons and U.S. Department of State [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Header image credit: By Deirdre Kline [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ted Rall

Author: Ted Rall

Based in New York, Ted Rall is an award-winning political cartoonist, essayist and Pulitzer Prize finalist. He covers news, justice, music and privacy for BreakingModern. Follow him @TedRall.

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