- Many sources are bias, make sure you have a balanced diet and avoid echo chambers
- There is too much news for any human to bear… so you need to be selective
- My recommendation for minimum diet: NPR’s Up First podcast, WSJ 10-Point daily email for subscribers, The Economist for excellent weekly analysis.
- I also get news via podcasts, blogs, and newsletters
I have seen excessive media consumption have a profoundly negative impact on friends. One have the news on in the background whenever she was home. It led to her being anxious and worried all the time. She recognized this and started to limit how much time she listened to the news. Within a few months she was much more at peace and abled to focus her time on things she thought were worthwhile.
I have several friends who only listened the news from their political perspective (left and right). I have watched their position become increasing polarized. Now they can’t even imagine interacting with someone associated with the other political party, even when those people were long time friends.
Changes in Media
I grew up in a golden age of traditional media: the middle of the 20th century. Media companies had enough money that they left news organizations alone. Many news rooms were run by editors who had a great respect for and a desire to know “the truth“. The heros of the newsroom were the investigative reporters. In the 21st century we are returning to an earlier era where much of the news is driven by money and power and newsrooms need to make a profit and attract viewers. As the newsroom has been commercialized, there are a number of websites that have been created by some of the journalists who felt displaced / constrained by the changes in the traditional media companies. I have hope that these organizations might continue the tradition of high quality journalism.
Selecting Good News Sources
My goal is to learn important facts (truths that are falsifiable) that keep me informed about the most important things effecting our world in general, and my life in particular. I recognize that I have personal biases. I don’t want to live in an echo chamber that reinforces my biases. I want to be exposed to information that will grow my understanding.
There are several media organizations such as Fox News and MS-NBC which are beyond bias selection of stories and are approaching propaganda / intentional misinformation which makes me angry and sad. I have several friend who watch several hours from one of these outlets. I have noticed that they seem constantly worried or angry. It’s no surprise given their media diet.
There have been several attempts to evaluate bias and accuracy in news reports such as adfontesmedia, allsides, factcheck.org, leadstories. mediabiasfactcheck. At some point I plan to look at the methodologies used by these groups to see which one does the best job identifying bias. I expect that this would be best done using machine learning.
I am working to skew my news consumption toward issues that I can do something about, but this is just beginning so I have nothing to report at this time.
Some suggestions about how to be a thoughtful consumer of news.
Too Much (Negative) Information
100 years ago people got news about their local community, and “major” stories from the world beyond the town or city. The news from “outside” would arrive maybe daily, or if you were in a remote town, weekly. As transportation and information distribution improved, and the news cycle sped up. We are now presented with a firehose of news.
Psychological studies have demonstrated that negative information catches our attention more than positive information. News organizations bias focus on negative news because they know it’s more likely to catch your attention which has led to the truism “If it bleeds, it leads”. This has lead to crisis fatigue.
This has resulted in people often feel that our communities are more dangerous than they were in the past. Parents feel they must walk their children to school to avoid them being snatched off the street. People are afraid the will be a victim of a violate crime, etc. Ironically, statistics indicate these crimes have decreased significantly over time. Why are people afraid? It used to be that if a child was abducted it was only reported in a local paper, maybe 100k people heard about it. Now it’s a lead story throughout the world, with hundreds of millions, if not billions of people hearing about it, and the story being repeated every hour.
We aren’t built to carry the weight of all the problems in the world. Constant exposure can be depression if not debilitating. I appreciate David Byrne’s attempt to fight this with Reasons to be Cheerful online magazine as one way to fight against this.
- NPR: I find the most of news programs on NPR (morning edition, all things considers, the world, etc) fact based with a slight liberal bias. The rest of the programs are variable ranging from neutral to quite liberal. I listen to the “Up First” podcast to get a daily dose of news, and several of their programs which are listed on my favorite podcasts page.
- WSJ: I find the news from WSJ fact based with a slight conservative bias. The opinion pages are decidedly conservative. I don’t necessarily read all on the WSJ, but I always scan the daily email I receive from them (The 10-Point: A Guide to the Day’s Top News and Here’s Your Daily Discover) to decide what stories to read
- BBC: Seems to be one of the least biased media outlets. I sometimes listen to one of their radio or TV shows, glance at their “front page”.
- Aljazeera: A non-western/USA centered take on news that is reasonably balance
- Christian Science Monitor: Not currently reading but it seems to be one of the more balanced newspapers published today.
- Reuters / AP / UPI: Neutral (just the facts) stories. I tried to subscribe to all their stories and use some hand crafted filters to surface stories that I would be interested while keeping me from drowning in too much news. I was not successful. This could be a good project using machine learning techniques combined with collaborative filtering.
- Taipei Times: The only English daily newspaper in TW. Periodically scan to get news from Jackie’s hometown.
- fivethirtyeight: Liberal leaning but tried to take an empirical approach to analysis.
- Politico: Liberal take on US politics. Not currently reading.
- The Hill: Follows the goings in Washington DC. Not currently reading, but a must for people who are focused on politics
- The Economist: I have been consistently impressed with their balance, deeply insightful analysis, and ability to cut through hype.
- Propublica: Classic investigative journalism calling the powerful to account. Slightly liberal bias because the poor and powerless are typically those getting run over.
- 60 Minutes: In the early days was fabulous. Stopped watching because it seems to have become more bias and more sensationalized.
- The Atlantic: Liberal leaning, thoughtful, also includes conservative voices.
- National Review: Conservative, well reasoned
- American Purpose: Classic Liberal (not American political liberal) viewpoint founded by Francis Fukuyama. Website, not a magazine and doesn’t have an RSS feed 🙁
- Foreign Policy / Foreign Affairs: Classic journals about US foreign policy. Reading inconsistently because I am not so focused on international relations
The following columnists appear in a variety of publications. I have found that they simulate my thinking. Several often take positions that are different from mine, but reading them expands my perspective. This list is much shorter than it used to be, in the last 10 years we have lost many great columnists. I find many of the newer columnists overly partisan who don’t think as deeply about issues.
- Arthur Brooks: Conservative who prioritizes human dignity and justice.
- David Brooks: Every liberals favorite (moderate) conservative.
- Robert Reich: Liberal
- Michael Moore: Liberal film maker and activist.
- George Will: Conservative
Humor is sometimes the best way to get people out of their rut and consider a different perspective.
Take A Break?
In 1974 I was at a summer camp for a couple of weeks. When I returned home I learned that Nixon had resigned. It made me think I needed to keep up with the new daily. I purchased a shortwave radio so I could always hear the news, no matter where I was. It has taken me a very long time to realize that it’s OK if I miss the news for a few days, or even a week or two. I finally realized that there is nothing I can do that immediately impacts any of the “big” news stories. So it I hear about it a day, a week, or even a month after the fact, nothing is really going to change.
These days when I take a vacation, do a long backpacking trips, etc, I feel free to not worry about the news. When I return home I can catch up. Mean while I can focus on my trip without distractions and give my heart a rest from the news cycle.