How I stay informed
Considering I once reported the news, you'd think I would be awesome at keeping up with the news. But... you'd be wrong.
I don't have a great memory for facts, names, and dates. I suck at the history category of Trivial Pursuit and I'm terrified I'll blank if someone randomly asked me to name, say, the President of Iran (Rouhani).
But I have the desire to be aware. It's something I value greatly. So much so that I picked my grad school program (International Affairs) based on the hope that even if it didn't lead to a career, at the very least I'd be forced to know what's going on in the world.
Now that I'm no longer listening to NPR throughout my workday, here's what I do to keep up with current events.
Subscribe to daily e-mail newsletters
Newsletters are my main source of news. I subscribe to several daily briefings/roundups of top news items. There are drawbacks to this, of course: you get a sense of the big headlines, but a Top 10 List will certainly miss news of significance in places that aren't prioritized by Western news outlets. Also, you are handing over curating power to a privileged few (or one almighty editor). Still, if there's one thing I recommend, it's to subscribe to one of these and read it religiously. It only takes me a few minutes to read a newsletter, plus whatever time I spend clicking through links (to read the full article). With the exception of the NYT, the great thing about these roundups is they draw from a variety of news sources. So, for example, Quartz will link to the Washington Post, Al Jazeera, etc. and not just itself.
Vox Sentences — This may be my favorite, when paired with a more traditional briefing. What makes Vox's newsletter so unique is it picks one major news item of the day and breaks it down for you. So, for example, if a militia takes over a government building in Oregon, Vox will give you a rundown on what that even means and why it matters.
The Quartz Daily Brief — This is the first daily newsletter I subscribed to and it's still one of my favorites. It focuses on economics- and business-related news.
The Week's 10 Things You Need to Know Today — Super straightforward. Good summaries.
The Skimm — I know this is well-loved by many but this one actually drives me a little nuts with its cutesy language and made up verbs like "Skimm'd." Ughhh. But they do a good job simplifying complicated issues. I still subscribe.
Foreign Policy Morning Brief — As you might guess, this is more internationally focused. I read this primarily when I was in grad school.
I'm sure I'm missing some, but those are the ones I subscribe to. At this point, pretty much every major news outlet has some sort of daily briefing. My suggestion: subscribe to one or two. Commit to reading. If you subscribe to too many at once, they'll just pile up in your inbox.
(You might wonder why you should subscribe to a news org's e-mail newsletter instead of just checking their website. 1) I like how cleanly formatted and not-distracting the e-mails are. I read them and I'm done — no getting lured by other links on the sidebar. 2) Web browsers are the portal to distractions, period. So when I'm on a news site, I'm very likely to just type "facebook.com" on my browser rather than reading through a whole briefing. 3) I check my e-mail every morning/evening, and getting an e-mail is a timed reminder to read the news. I don't have to make a mental note to check the NYT homepage.)
Read/watch explainers, as needed
News events don't happen in a vacuum. But often I'll read updates about the same story or issue for several days in a row and I'll realize I don't know the greater context. What's wonderful is there are so many news orgs (and even individuals, like media giants John and Hank Green) that put together "explainers," which give an in-a-nutshell summary of a big issue. Here are just a few examples of explainers about the Syrian refugee crisis.
About a year ago, there was a bit of an uproar when a study came out saying many Americans get their news from social media. People complained that that means we're all stupid and the end of civilization is here, etc. etc. I think that's crap. It's one thing if you only get your news from the one high school classmate who posts links to articles every now and then, or if you just follow the trending stories on FB for your news. But the thing is, so many news outlets are super active on social media these days. When I worked in pub radio, that's all anyone could talk about — how to utilize social media for engagement, how to tap into followers' knowledge bases, how to package features so people will click.
So yeah, I definitely use Twitter to follow news. Twitter's strength is its live, to-the-minute updates. I've used Twitter to track election results, to get play-by-plays of meetings I can't attend, to follow breaking news notifications.
The trick is to follow wisely — follow the major news outlets, but also follow journalists and orgs from places of interest. This is also a good way to follow smaller/local news orgs. And even if you're not a regular Twitter user, do utilize the search feature to find information on breaking news.
(Note: I follow news sources on Facebook, too, but FB's algorithm makes it less useful — for example, NPR posts its big headlines every morning, but they won't necessarily show up on your newsfeed. For that reason, I use FB almost exclusively for personal use. My news advice with FB is to have smart, knowledgeable friends who share thought-provoking info. :) Or go ahead and follow news sources — orgs and individuals — but make sure to click on their actual page now and then.)
Check the Apple News app when I have a free minute
I'm generally wary of Apple's proprietary apps (who uses the Newsstand app? Anyone?) but I LOVE the newish News app. It's a great way to "stumble upon" news that doesn't make the daily briefings. It's also great for discovering long-form features.
I also like it because it allows me to follow favorite news sources without having to wade through individual websites (or carry around copies of The Economist and never actually get around to reading them).
If I'd change anything about my current news diet, I'd incorporate more radio — through NPR One, streaming, or a local airing of the BBC World Service. I'd also catch The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight (<--which Paul would highly recommend), but I just don't watch much these days.
In sum: I read a couple e-mail briefings every day + use Twitter and apps to supplement.
What do you do to keep up with the news?