August 24, 2012 by WAR
by Rachel Alexander
Most of you have probably made a commitment at some point in your lives to read the newspaper everyday, and most of you probably gave up after about a week. I know how it goes—I’m the editor-in-chief of the newspaper here, totally committed to becoming a journalist after I graduate, and I still have trouble reading the news every morning.
Sure, I could tell you to just suck it up and head to nytimes.com or BBC.com (and if that works for you, more power to you). But at WAR, we like to be a bit more creative. Here are my tips for staying up-to-date, whether you’re a radical who wants to know what’s really going on or just someone who wants to stay on top of current events.
Many Whitties can debate the nuances of the Euro Zone crisis but have no idea what’s going on in Walla Walla. Don’t be one of them! The Union-Bulletin is our local paper, and while it often runs photos of the sky on the front page, it’s the best source for day-to-day coverage of the Walla Walla Valley. Their website is behind a paywall, but you can pick up a free copy downstairs in Reid. Grab one when you go to get lunch or check your mail and flip through it.
There’s also a citizen-journalist blog at wallawallawatchdogs.org which covers Walla Walla politics and news. It’s a great source of information about city and county issues, budgets and the like.
For statewide coverage, the Seattle Times offers decent news and is free to read online, though their right-wing pro-business editorial board can be obnoxious. Personally, I’m a big fan of Seattle’s alt-weekly paper The Stranger, which runs a solid blog at slog.thestranger.com. While it does contain random hilarious YouTube clips posted by editors, it’s also a good source of information on state politics, including budget issues.
Finally, there’s our campus paper, The Pioneer (apologies for shameless self-promotion). Pick up a new copy around campus on Thursday afternoons, and if you love something, hate it or have an article idea, let the editors know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t be the campus’ paper if we never hear from our readers about what they want to see.
The wider world
Generally, people tend to get trapped by the sheer quantity of information out there in the world. Here are some suggestions for helping you figure out where to hone your focus.
- Develop a routine. Whether it’s getting up half an hour earlier to read headlines before class or taking a mid-afternoon break to check your Twitter feed, knowing how you’re going to read the news helps make sure it’s a daily (or weekly) thing and not just a procrastination tool.
- Pick a topic or geographical region to focus on. If you’re studying Spanish, try to keep up-to-date with Latin American news. If you’re passionate about the environment, check an environmental news site like Grist. It’s less overwhelming, and being an expert in one thing is cooler than giving up on reading the paper because there’s too much of it.
- Follow journalists on Twitter. Most journalists Tweet links to articles related to their area of focus, as well as thoughts on the issues they cover. Find some people who write about stuff you’re interested in (you can search a publication’s name on Twitter and get a decent list of the people who work there and are tweeting), get an account and follow them. You’ll be able to log in and get an up-to-date list of links and info that’s basically personalized for you. You can also follow publications you like on Facebook or Tumblr for a similar effect.
- Google Alerts are your friend. If you know you’re interested in something specific (eg. “Mexico border wall”), sign up for a Google Alert. You’ll get the top news stories and blog posts related to that search term once a day in your inbox. Even if you don’t want to read full articles, you’ll get a lot of information out of skimming the headlines. If you have an account on nytimes.com, you can set up alerts for specific keywords or topics there as well.
- Reddit. Basically, it’s an online community with different sub-communities (called sub-reddits) grouped by interest. Users post links and upvote the ones they like. You can sign up and subscribe to different sub-reddits (eg. politics, world news, environment) and have a customized collection of articles to read, grouped by subject and vetted by the good people of the Internet.
- Stewart/Colbert is better than nothing. But you can probably do more than that, especially for world news.
A note on mainstream media sources
This should be obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway. Mainstream media sources take a bunch of things as givens, such as (generally), the existence of the state, the legitimacy of capitalism, the legitimacy of existing social institutions and forms of governance, and, in the U.S., the two-party political system. They’re an easy way of getting information, because they have the resources to maintain bureaus all over the world. But if you go for convenience in your media, you’re going to miss things, and sometimes, end up with distorted views. Mainstream sources, especially from the U.S., often report inaccurate information about social movements in other parts of the world, and tend to bias their coverage in favor of the state and/or U.S. foreign policy objectives. I’m not going to argue that this is done consciously, deliberately, or as part of the Grand Conspiracy to Keep Capitalism in Place, but it has real effects on what you’re reading. Keep in mind that no news source is truly objective, and, in this age of global information, try to balance out the New York Times with some blog posts, tweets, or photos written by people who are actually on the ground and from the country in question.
Some good sources for less-than-mainstream news
Okay, I would be remiss if I didn’t list the good mainstream sources first. For online stuff that’s not behind a paywall, the Economist, Al-Jazeera English, the BBC and the Guardian are all solid sources of world news. The Washington Post covers national politics well. I also like the New York Times, though it’s metered, but a student subscription is cheap ($7.50 a month) if you want to make the investment.
If you’re sick of that stuff, here are some other things to check out:
- Mother Jones (solid online content and a bimonthly magazine, nonprofit with a focus on investigative reporting)
- AlterNet (leftist news, picks up on stories the mainstream media often misses or underreports)
- ProPublica (investigative reporting, often teams up with other news organizations)
- Colorlines (social justice news encouraging activism, often with a focus on race)
- Feministing (feminist blog with generally solid intersectional analysis)
This is, of course, in no way a comprehensive list. Find some folks you like who provide news or commentary on the issues you care about. Listen to the voices of people who are on the ground experiencing things, and trust people to speak for their own cultures and countries. Seek out those voices, and remember, the mainstream media won’t tell you everything.