news


I took a year-long break from news, starting in the spring of 2015, on the advice of my doctor, to reduce stress. It helped a bit, and I needed the help. I was working on the last of my hours for licensure in a stressful environment. It was worth it to give up my standing as a good citizen who keeps up with current events.

Then, a year later, I decided to listen to the back episodes of my main news sources, Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square and KCRW’s Left, Right & Center,* figuring that old news should be less stressful and that my good-citizenship could use some updating.

I found that old news is almost infinitely less stressful than new news. It is also, of course, significantly less interesting, probably through the same mechanism. But the main lesson for me was about spin. Listening to pundits and guests talk a year ago about the news, I realized that they are constantly making, or at least implying, predictions. Maybe every third declarative sentence is a prediction. And from the vantage point of a year later, it is clear that these extremely intelligent, well-informed people are very, very bad at predicting the future. Predictions with no predictive value are just spin, an attempt to create the future by moving the narrative in the direction of your ideology.

That news is largely spin is not a major theoretical revelation, but it has been a big deal to me experientially. It reminds me of the first time a press release I’d written appeared, with only minor edits, in a newspaper under a reporter’s name. I’d known from my publicity classes that 80% of print media was rewritten press releases, but seeing my words there in print, looking so official, I felt my brain shift: Just about every thing you read exists because someone else has a vested interest in your thinking what they want you to think. And the same goes for words spoken on news shows.

So after catching up on news and realizing this, I very nearly went off it again. How is it useful to listen to all this spin? It takes up a fair amount of time that could be spent reading or studying. Or, I thought, maybe I’d search for a news source that offered no “analysis,” just descriptions of events. Eventually I decided/rationalized that I’d be missing out on the most entertaining few months of news in my lifetime, so I stayed in it. To temper the stress, I’ve added some much nerdier sources, mostly FiveThirtyEight Elections, Vox’s The Weeds, and The Daily Evolver. It helps to have people talking about data, statistics, policy, and theory.

Maybe I’ll go back off news after the election. Maybe all media for a while. We’ll see.

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*I don’t mean to pick on GPS or LR&C, by any means. (Though I do consider LR&C a perfect example of outcome irrelevant learning.) They are both really good shows, and intended to be analysis of current events, not just descriptions.

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I like to know what everyone thinks is going on. To this end, about a year ago, I filled up my igoogle home page with feeds from a bunch of different news sources. They are political news sources, for the most part. I don’t care at all about sports or celebrities. I tried to pick stuff from the hard left and hard right and then some mainstream stuff, thinking I could read headlines every day or two and read the articles that grabbed my attention.

It’s not working out that well. I’m too busy to read much. I do glance over the headlines a bit, but there are a lot of them and often my eyes just glaze over. And while I want to know about the rest of the world, I’m even more interested in what my friends and family are doing. If my sister-in-law, Maya, has posted on her blog, or my mom on hers, my brother Benjamin on his, or my friend Jeannie on hers, or my friend Ethan on a couple of his blogs (one about everything and one about his wife Susannah’s struggle with leukemia–both amazing), or several other friends and family with blogs have posted, that’s what I read while I’m brushing my teeth or during whatever scanty extracurricular-reading time appears.

So I need to cull. I’m considering getting paring it down to the few feeds that I actually click on. That would look like this:

Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman columns at NYTimes.com–occasional reads.

Wall Street Journal feed–very occasional reads.

NPR’s political feed–pretty regular use, but usually just audio clips from “All Things Considered,” plus a nearly-daily five-minute news overview, also audio.

A google news feed gathered from a bunch of sources–very occasional reads.

Plus PsychCentral‘s Mental Health News and Children/Parenting News feeds–pretty frequent reads, a few a week–and Nildoctrine‘s feed for his hilarious feminist political vlogs.

And plus my podcasts, which I have absolutely no problem keeping up with: Left, Right and Center, Planet Money, This American Life, Radiolab, and The Long Now Foundation’s Seminars About Long Term Thinking. These I love the most.

I’d call that a US-centric, left-leaning-centrist list. I’d be ditching my right-winger stuff besides the Wall Street Journal–FrumForum which looked pretty good when I checked it out, but I just haven’t been checking it out, and National Review, whose cartoony headlines and terrible writing meant that I almost never looked at it, and regretted it when I did. I’d ditch quite a bit of left-winger stuff–The New Republic & Mother Jones (cartoony headlines again), Truthdig (generally good but not catching me), and Democracy Now! which I think is great but consistently depressing. Also The Onion, which is hilarious but I’ve stopped looking at it, and a CNN feed, which is weak.

That list doesn’t really do what I originally wanted–covering hard left to hard right–but it seems OK for now. What do you think? I’m interested in the media-intake schemes of anyone who made it this far through my post. How do you make these decisions? Do you think I’m missing anything crucial? Make me some recommendations!

Also, anyone interested in my actual media diet can look at my reading list here.