Suggestions on How to Choose the News

I’ve been asked more than once how I decide what news sources to read and from which to extract information. This seems a deceptively easy question which actually turns out to be a somewhat complicated answer.

My thoughts on this complex topic follow.

For sources of news and information…

Start with one of my favorite sayings, often attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan by his former aide, Chris Matthews: “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.”

That should be gospel for anyone who is serious about learning, whether from news, history, or anything else.

I use Googlenews as my aggregator. (Others — such as Yahoo.com, MSN.com, etc.–  may work as well or better for you.) I find Google News nicely customizable for my purposes (areas of interest, that is). It pulls articles from around the world, but it’s up to me to choose which sources I read from. (Most topics offer several variations from different sources. If not, I can search other sources for a topic or news item.)

I find my news choices somewhat influenced by pay walls. Some pay walls allow you a certain number of articles per month (probably tracked by cookies), some none at all. If I had the money, I’d support many news organizations, some commercial and some non-profit. Being on Social Security, I mostly avoid The NY Times, The Wall Street Journal and some others for the same reasons: as a matter of economics.

I consider NBCnews.com, CBSnews.com and CNN.com decent sources as far as accuracy goes. I like MaddowBlog.com (Rachel Maddow, that is). She has her views, and topics that she likes to cover, but she goes to great lengths to assure accuracy and completeness of what she reports, plus cogent explanations of complex topics is a strong suit for her. She did a great job explaining the Japanese reactor meltdowns, and I even posted some of those on my blog.

Stories from Reuters, UPI and Associated Press can be fine sources. I like the Christian Science Monitor, LA Times, and the Washington Post (The Post’s editorial pages have gotten much more conservative since Jeff Bezos bought it, but their reporting still seems okay). Huffington Post has some good writing and opinion pieces.

ABC is okay for science news (that’s always been a strong area for them), but I sometimes find their general coverage too ‘light’ in terms of style and target audience for my taste.

I need not mention Fox as an unreliable news source (although they’re fine for science and tech; no political value in those, I guess). I actually find The Chinese news channel CCTV-America a better source of news than Fox. At least their biases are obvious.

I think that it’s essential to mix up your sources with international reportage. This goes back to how to learn of ‘stuff you don’t always hear about in the US media’.

(NOTE: All the foreign sources noted here have reports in English.)

Al-Jazeera English (“AJAM”) has pretty good reporting, and is relatively objective (their idea of objective, of course, but that’s the point). AJAM is good for seeing ourselves through other eyes, but it’s also a great source for coverage of the Muslim world and Africa. Other good international sources include AFP (L’Agence France-Presse; French News). I have a special affection for BBCnews.com. I actually follow the Canberra Times (Australian Capital Territory, Australia) on Twitter. I often find myself reading articles from the Irish Times, The Guardian and The Telegraph. I occasionally drop in on Ha-aretz (Israel).

I avoid RT.com (“Russia Today”), Farsi (Iran) and other unsurprising ‘usual suspects’ as unreliably distorted; that is to say, if you can’t be certain where the truth ends and the propaganda starts, there’s no point in confusing yourself. (Fox News fits into this category, imho.)

I like to read some of the small liberal-leaning bloggers for opinion and analysis, and for some of the under-reported news, but with caveats.

It’s always important when reading bloggers to remember that they are mostly NOT trained journalists (nor am I, if I must make the disclaimer), and actual journalism is a discipline which must be learned to be done well. On the other hand, bloggers do sometimes report from (or are) primary sources: witnesses to events, videographers, photographers, etc., or they may have run across an obscure bit of information that no one else has picked up. You may find some blogs to be consistently of a quality that you come to mostly trust.

Some ‘small’ blogs have gotten pretty influential. The Daily Kos (named for it’s originator, Markos Melitsis), crooksandliars.com, democraticunderground.com, talkingpointsmemo.com, firedoglake.com, alternet.org, and www.rawstory.com, are a few examples.

As in all things, caveat emptor.

When you read bloggers for news (as opposed to opinion or analysis, where your opinion may be as good as mine, even if different), the reader essentially takes on the role of journalist. For example:

  • Does the writer seem reasonably literate, and articulate enough to make for clear understanding?
  • Is the story plausible?
  • Is it written without hyperbole (“Just the facts, ma’am”)?
  • Can the essential facts be verified? This is very important for an allegedly under-reported story. Is it real? When searched, can you find other posts reporting details that seem to correlate without all or most of it having obviously been lifted from one source? (I.e., “Echo chamber” stuff.)

News is fascinating, mind-expanding and educational, but can also be manipulative, incomplete, mostly speculative, or just sufficiently selectively reported where it is essentially untrue.

But learning to be a news connoisseur can be half the fun.

Over time, I have also added a list of interesting sites on the left side of my BLOG tab page:

Mission accomplished, Phil? ;-)

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