Image from page 5 of “Boone County Recorder” (1908)

What I Have Learned About Staying Informed

Staying informed about the state of current events frequently feels like a nearly impossible task. I attribute my current level of awareness to learning about the past, following a diverse group of journalists and activists on Twitter, and to being open to contrarians who push me to to use a critical eye on reporting and personalities. Here are a few things I have learned about staying informed and hope you find the insight useful.

On #resistance

Be wary of those peddling #resistance. Resistance is not propping up politicos who have continually failed to bring help and relief to Americans. Resistance is fighting against politicos and policies that marginalize and divide coalitions of Americans. Resistance also builds coalitions of similarly minded groups with overlapping goals. Resistance should not just be about standing against something, but standing for something. Listen to those who recognize that.

Spooking vs. truth-telling

It is important to investigate wrongdoing and conflicts of interest while maintaining a rational understanding of the facts of a matter. Artificial inflation of the facts causes people who are vulnerable and desperate for answers that fit a particular narrative to fall into a cognitive dissonance that the eventual revelation of facts cannot break. Follow truth-tellers that speak truth to power, not spooks that twist narratives to fit a predetermined outcome. To tell the difference you will often have to be comfortable with being fearlessly self-critical.

Finding a pure source

Seeking out truth-tellers involves having high standards for people who claim to dispense truth. If you hear a reporter or news outlet has lied or misled, find out why, call them out, ask them to apologize, and be incredulous until trust is earned again. I would rather get my news from a source that apologized and set the record straight after flubbing than a source whose hubris blinds them from apologizing for a misstep. Purity tests are great for news sources. Also, no one is perfect so learn to forgive.

Avoid news sources that are heavily tied to complicated funding schemes with murky agendas like cable news organizations.

Avoid Facebook echo-chambers

Your friend’s opinions probably suck. Stay off Facebook. Talk to your friends about what is going on in person (if they are willing to listen), but don’t rely on them to know the facts. Get a Twitter account and follow activists and journalists and engage. Read.

Follow locals

Follow what is happening locally. Many people’s concerns are actually affected by local policymaking. Local newspapers can be a good source, but are often only mediocre at doing adversarial reporting on local issues and many are consolidated under complicated funding schemes that make independent reporting a conflict of interest. Look for neighborhood blogs and local experts on Twitter. Follow your city supervisor or city council member and state and congressional representatives, too, if only to keep them in check.

Avoid the cult of personality

As great or as pure as you imagine your trusted journalist or politician to be, nobody is perfect and you will probably be disappointed with them at some point. Think about what is important to you and follow a diversity of people who are speaking truth to power about the topics you care about. Learn and study the topics. You will be able to filter the bullshit if you know more about the topic yourself.

Read past the headline

Even a cursory glance at the content of an article can often reveal that what is inferred in the title may not always be the story. Reading only headlines is not informing yourself.

Podcasts

Subscribing to podcasts is a great way to stay informed and consume news when your eyes have had enough reading. They can also provide a nice summary of several important issues in one sitting. Also, many podcasts will feature political commentators and other guests that offer more experienced perspectives and specific details on topics being discussed.

Engaging on Twitter

Read more than you engage. Engage if you have something to contribute. Avoid fighting with people you have fundamental disagreements with (you will not change their mind). It is ok to be wrong. It is also ok to be perceived as wrong by trolls who offer little in facts or analysis to back up their claims. It is rarely useful to be an asshole. It is fine to leave an unproductive conversation.

Read about history

History is not just a series of events demarcated by loosely spaced dates that live isolated from current events. Understanding the past helps to explain the present. It can help answer questions like why most of the wealth generated in our collective economy is going to a small percentage of already wealthy Americans. Or answer why non-white people are incarcerated at higher rates than whites. Or make clearer why spending on incarceration has grown faster than spending on education.

Learning about the past helped me escape the partisan divide and opened up awareness about institutions and ideologies that are cancers on our collective lives. The history you learned in grade school was probably more of a lazy nationalistic indoctrination than a full story that connects the past to the present. If you are looking for an easy read I recommend A Young People’s History of the United States.

Conclusion

Staying informed is difficult. There is a lot of misinformation out there and it is hard to filter through. One of the duties we have to ourselves and to each other is to be well informed about what is going on in the world. This helps us talk about solutions to complex problems with a common vocabulary. It also helps us make informed decisions when it is our turn to step up, whether at the ballot box or in public office.

Feel free to share your successes or complaints about staying informed.

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