Advice on how to be a well informed news consumer

tldr; [1] Support news orgs — [2] especially local ones. [3] Don’t let the social media firehose be your only source of news. [4] Sleep

This is a rendition of a social media firehose taken quite literally.

There’s a question I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few years of working in the media:

How can I be an informed news consumer in the social media era?

Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and even Slack channels amount to an endless firehose of links, memes and hot takes bidding for our attention.

Keeping up can be overwhelming, tiring and frustrating. And that was before Donald J. Trump tweeted his way to the White House. In the 13 days since Trump took office, his White House has turned on every hose at their disposal and started a mis/information blitzkrieg aimed at wearing down the opposition.

Amongst friends, family and colleagues, I’ve sensed a general weariness around social media usage. A few social friends have admitted to wanting to take a break from social media, but feel they can’t for fear of missing important updates. Others, are posting at rates never seen before, but it’s only a matter of time before they wear out. Others, like me, keep catching ourselves up on Facebook at way too late o’clock.

Therefore, I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts on how to stay informed and current in a sane and rational way. For your benefit, but also as a reminder to myself.

1. Help make media healthy again*

News media is sick, and has been since almost after the internet was created. The sickness is the attention economy. Clicks=ad revenue. The old media is in need of a new funding model, and the Trump presidency has already proven to be a unique opportunity on sustaining readerships. The NY Times has already seen a tenfold increase in subscriptions.

Keep this momentum going by donating and/or subscribing to your preferred news outlets to help them have to rely less on traffic. The goal is to give newsrooms the bandwidth to report on things that may not be as popular but are important for the public to know.

Well funded and sustainable media means that newsrooms can re/establish foreign bureaus, re/start investigative reporting units, and be able to send reporters to otherwise sparsely attended government meetings (think school boards, city councils and state house committee meetings, etc). AND in the meantime it may allow some to remove their strict paywalls or intrusive popups.

2. Support local media

And for the reasons stated in #1, don’t ONLY give money to national or international news organizations. Do that, but be sure that your news diet contains a healthy dose of local news, because the events and laws and ordinances passed locally typically impact you more on a daily basis than anything the Feds do.

Therefore, I encourage you to subscribe to your local paper and/or donate to your local public media stations (TV & Radio). In addition, rural areas are especially underserved in local news coverage. Big papers and news orgs (NYT, WaPo, CNN) are able to pay for play on platforms like Facebook because they have the resources to do so. They can hire a full team of developers to keep up with the many changes that Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple require.

Rural areas and smaller metropolises — not so much. They are at a disadvantage in vying for your attention. So if you live in a large city, consider tossing a few bucks to the newsroom in your hometown, or your grandparents hometown or even randomly selecting a region on a map to support theirs. You will be doing the citizens in that region a favor.

3. Free yourself from the firehose

Before I became a web developer for PRI — Public Radio International, I was very much against signing up for email lists because I was afraid of inbox clutter. I didn’t and really don’t subscribe to email lists — especially commercial ones. They tend to fill up your inbox and arrive much more often than needed.

However, in my role, I’ve had to subscribe to numerous news based email newsletters to see what others are doing with their format and templates. And what I found is that I like receiving them. A good email newsletter is worth its weight in gold to the consumer. You can read it quickly, and good newsletters give you different angles on the big issues from multiple sources. In other words, you are less likely to miss something that may not be trending.

At the very least, subscribing to email newsletters means you don’t have to rely the oft-mentioned social media firehose to have a good idea of what is going on. In fact, you will be more informed by the time you do arrive on social media.

Here are a couple of newsletters I highly recommend:

  • Quartz Daily Brief
  • Vox Sentences
  • PRI’s The Scan: Full disclosure, as mentioned earlier, I work for PRI and designed the template for this newsletter. But that is not why I’m recommending this. The content is a nice mix of world news (stories vs hard news) and how it impacts the US.
  • Or just search the interwebs for ‘<favorite news org> newsletter’ — most have ’em, even Buzzfeed.

4. Don’t use social in bed

Sleep. Dang it. Sleep. I have a rule for myself that I don’t bring my phone into bed. Last night I didn’t follow my own rule and I lost at least a half hour of sleep for it. Grrr.

My hope for us is that by doing the above, we won’t need to spend as much time on social media. And that when we do choose to post or engage on social media it is from a more informed perspective. It will help keep us all sane and grounded.

Comments welcomed.

*Admittedly “Make <insert> great again” is a tired trope.

Note: The views expressed in this post are the author’s only and do not necessarily reflect those of PRI.