How to Read the News
August 18, 2015
Filed In: Philosophy
Online news is both a blessing and a curse. You can get up-to-the minute updates, but oftentimes the initial reporting is wrong. You can read stories from across the country and around the world, yet the stories are usually filtered depending on the bias of a particular news organization. Perhaps the worst part about online news sources is that the vast, vast majority of content is simply republished content from another source.
A few weeks ago, there was an airplane accident in South Carolina in which an Air Force F-16 had a mid-air collision with a Cessna. I read the article on one major network's website and then went to the local affiliate to get more detailed information. The articles on both sites were the same, verbatim. I went to other major news sites and the exact same thing happened. Each source was hosting the content of this article which was written by a staff AP reporter. What a huge disappointment.
I've been subscribing to the Wall Street Journal for the past nine months and I must say, it's completely changed my views on news. I subscribe for two reasons. First, the quality of the articles improves both my vocabulary and global scope. Instead of reducing language to something commonplace, they elevate the experience by using appropriate and correct words at somewhere around an advanced high school level. It's refreshing to be reported to as an adult. The range of articles expands my worldview from just where I live to issues and events impacting communities everywhere. Second, I subscribe because they do actual reporting. Generally speaking, the Journal seems to have very high editorial standards and so you don't find much, if any, conjecture in the articles. It's nearly impossible to identify the reporter's thoughts on the issue save in the opinion section. Even better, their reporting is proactive. Instead of waiting for the AP to write the article, they go out and find stories. These stories are ones that no one else is writing. In fact, on the bottom of the front page, every day, is some quirky human interest piece.
Our cultural demand for 24 hour news has put journalists in a very difficult position. It's an untenable situation that causes them to feel pressured to report something, anything, both to fill time and to beat their competitors. That's where the newspapers bring redemption. Readers expect updates once per day. That gives journalists time to do research, discover facts and, frankly, to provide content that's truly compelling. Certainly there are times when I skip articles that were published in the morning because by evening, when I sit down to read the day’s paper, everything has changed. However, for the most part, once per day updates is just right.
Newspapers offer one more key benefit that online news hasn't quite mastered: a menu of options. News websites are massive and often confusing. A newspaper, even a newspaper's app, provides a structured, organized menu of articles for you to choose from. They're grouped by section and organized with some degree of prioritization. It's through this menu that you find stories that you might not otherwise see and because of that feature, you learn things that you otherwise may not learn. They're able to do this because instead of filling up screen space with ads, pop-ups, and sleazy clickbait stories, they place other articles in the same category together.
I use my time each day reading the paper as an intellectual exercise in which I expand my mind and my horizons. In all of my years of productivity hacking, I can think of few other habits that have helped me grow faster and resulted in higher rates of satisfaction.