Like any other habit, your news routine is a tricky thing to change once you get used to it. If you don’t pay any attention to the news now, it gets harder as you get older to know where to start. If you pay lots of attention to a specific set of sources now, you could be missing out on a lot of great, eye-opening journalism. If you don’t really think about it and just scroll through whatever comes across your social network feeds, you’re actually getting used to a certain set of perspectives without even realizing it. (On the web, we call this the filter bubble. Here’s a great TED Talk about it.)
One of the best things you can do for yourself when you’re young is develop a personal news routine that works for you, and, as the times and your lifestyle change, keep re-evaluating and updating it.
Here’s a 5 step process for doing just that.
Step 1: Ask yourself why you want to consume the news.
This might change as you get older, but starting with as clear and honest of an intention as possible is always better than mindlessly consuming a lot of empty media calories. For example:
- I want to be up-to-date on news about a place, group of people or issue that I care about or am personally connected to.
- I don’t want seem like I don’t know what is going on in the world because it’s embarrassing.
- I think keeping up with the news will help me do better in school (or at my job or internship).
- I’m really curious about the world and want to be inspired or entertained.
- I want to learn about journalism and do my own reporting one day.
- I don’t really care to, but I probably should read the paper.
Step 2: Ask yourself if your current news consumption habits are helping you fulfill your intentions.
You can even make a list of all the places from which you get the news. For example:
- TV: which shows? how often?
- Social Media: who posts there? what type of stories?
- Print Magazines and Newspapers: which ones? how much do you read?
- Online Videos: from where? about what?
- Websites: which sources? how are you getting to them?
- Apps: which ones? why?
You might find that you already follow a ton of great sources. Or you might find that you don’t really consume all that much “news” with any sort of discipline or regularity. Maybe you’re constantly watching videos and reading articles from websites that aren’t reliable sources. Delete the things from this list that you think aren’t enriching you or helping you meet your goals. Or, at least move them over and make room for more journalism.
Step 3: Find new sources!
- Asking people you respect where and how they get their news is a great way to start. For example: Is there a teacher you really respect? Ask where he/she consumes their news. A friend who seems to know everything all the time? What news apps are they using?
- Do some research of your own. A lot of news discovery apps aggregate news from a variety of outlets, so keep your eyes open for which ones you are drawn to, and even if you don’t do it very often, make it a point to visit their website, get a feel for what their slant is and who their writers and editors are at least once, so you’re aware.
- Ask a journalist. Are there reporters you admire? See who they follow and interact with on Twitter. See where else they have bylines. Reach out to them.
- Ask a topic expert. Interested in a particular issue? Who covers the issue for a major news organization? Who specializes in it at a research department? Read their blog. Reach out to them and ask what sources they follow.
Step 4: Logistics.
- How much time do you have per day for the news? Where will you be?
Maybe it’s just 30 minutes in the morning before school. Maybe you have a long bus ride. Maybe you have a free period. Maybe it’ll be over dinner in the evening with your family, or on Sunday morning at home. Maybe it’s a couple of minutes here and there throughout the day.
- What medium(s) do you prefer?
Maybe you want to exclusively use your smartphone. Maybe you want to use a computer. Maybe you like to read the paper or magazines in print because your family subscribes. If you’re on your phone, do you want to use several different news apps? Do you want one app that will aggregate a lot of sources? Do you want to read the news through your e-mail instead of an app? Maybe you just want to watch videos or listen to radio. Maybe you want more news on platforms you already use for social purposes, like Snapchat or Instagram. See what feels right.
Step 5: Assemble a diet!
Look at everything you have gathered in Steps 1–4 and see what you can put together for yourself. I would recommend consuming at least 1 reputable national publication for a snapshot of the big picture each day and then adding on sources you’re interested in on the platforms of your choosing. You can aggregate sources using a service like Feedly or Paper.li. You can download apps for specific news organizations or subscribe to their e-mail newsletters. You can fill your social media feeds with news by following the accounts of news organizations. The list goes on.
My current diet, for example, looks something like this:
- In the morning: Read the NYT Morning Briefing and NY Today on my phone using the NYTNow App.
- On the train: 1 long-form/magazine story that I’ve either discovered on the Longform App or that I’ve come across online and saved using Pocket.
- On by 5-ish minute walk to the work from the train: Listen to the NPR Newscast on my phone with headphones.
- At work: I subscribe to about 35 e-mail newsletters from different news organizations and bloggers that filter into a “News” folder in my inbox. I’ll sift through them over the day, read short things and save the long-stuff for later.
- On the train home: I’m tired of looking at the computer or phone so I’ll listen to a podcast episode or an NPR show.
- At home: I don’t have TV so I’ll watch a newscast from the Reuters TV App, which let’s you select the length of your newscast and personalizes it for you, or the app Watchup, which is similar but aggregates sources. Or, I’ll watch videos that I’ve saved from Vice/NYT/The Guardian and various other news channels on YouTube.
- Weekend: I try to read everything I saved in Pocket that week but didn’t get to, and a I’ll read the WSJ & NYT in print + 1 print issue of a magazine from that week, such as The Economist or The New Yorker.
- I also follow a lot of news organizations on Instagram and Twitter. Instagram because it’s a gentle and non-invasive way to keep my eye on things passively. Twitter, because nearly all journalists are on it, and I can use services like Nuzzel to get notified when stories are trending that I should pay attention to.
How Other People Do It: The Wire used to do a series called Media Diet on how famous people read the news. There are some interesting tools and strategies in it.
Bonus Step: Do I want to act on this news I’ve just discovered?
- Maybe I want to share it in an email, an article, or social feed?
- Maybe I want to save it for later because it’s too long to read or watch right now? (You can use Instapaper or Pocket to save things for later.)
- Maybe I want to participate in the issue by writing about it, commenting, blogging or incorporating it into an assignment.
- Maybe I did read something great and I want to remember it later so I’ll bookmark it. (I try to keep a record of everything I read and enjoy so I can access it later, using Evernote.)
The more informed you are and the more naturally news fits into your life, the more likely you are to do the above, which is a public service to everyone.
If you have suggestions or ideas of your own on the subject, please contact me at jihiitea [at] gmail [dot] com.
Note 1: This is based on a little talk I give at the end of a high school journalism class I’m teaching at the School of the New York Times. Our send-off class (the last in a session of 4–5 weeks) involves things students can take with them: Your rights as a student journalist, what college/grad school in journalism will look like, and how to read the news. They’re high schools students from NYC who choose to be in the program and have a demonstrated interest in journalism.