As children, my little brother and I were not allowed to eat upstairs- all meals and snacks had to be taken in the dining room. It was a strict rule, except on Sundays when we were allowed to have breakfast in my parent’s room, provided we watched the morning news with them. They watched CNN and MSNBC almost exclusively in the morning (my mom is a fan of news radio, and dad is a BBC kind of guy), so I spent those Sunday mornings eating in front of Meet the Press and becoming a social democrat. After my parents’ favourite shows were over, we’d discuss them as a family and they’d encourage us to look at the issues from a variety of sides and develop our own perspective on things.
I don’t know if “no food upstairs unless you’re learning about current events” was a deliberate attempt by my parents to make my brother and I more socially aware, or if they just wanted quiet mornings once a week. Either way, both things happened.
I’ve voted in every single election I’ve been eligible for, volunteer with my political party of choice, and I listen to and read the news throughout each day. Now that I live in my own place, I can eat wherever I want, but I continue to stay on top of the news. What’s changed is that I now watch more than CNN and MSNBC, great as they are. (Or in CNN’s case, were. Things have been going downhill for a while.) Even if you don’t “do” politics, politics is still doing you- sometimes in ways you can’t do anything about unless you really know what’s going on. That’s why it’s so important to follow a variety of sources.
MacKenzie McHale says it best in the pilot episode of The Newsroom: “Not all stories have two sides. Some have five. Some only have one.” And the side you stand on often depends largely on where you’re getting your information from. Ain’t nobody free from bias- you just have to choose the most sensible bias to adopt.
These are the news sources that I trust to help me decide what side I want to be on.
I’m new to the NRP world, although I’ve been hearing about them for years and am passively familiar with their editorial integrity. I listen to their 24 hours news show in the morning while getting ready for the day, and again in the evening as I’m getting ready for bed. I also really love the hourly news summary, because sometimes, a 4 minute and 30 second overview is all I can really handle when there’s too much despair in my knowledge soup. Very left slanting, but always rightfully so.
Aimed At: Concerned young people/middle-aged Americans who are more concerned with being informed than being concerned.
See Also: This American Life. I’m consistently impressed by how they’ve previously dealt with sensitive topics with both sensitivity and sensibility. There was no panicked losing of the minds by breathless reporters, nor glossing over the severity of the issue at hand.
Gawker once described Monocle as: “a travel-culture magazine and a repository of lifestyle sensuality and gaywad uptightness.” I agree with Gawker (though not with their use of the word “gaywad”), but being uptight doesn’t detract from Monocle’s unique, albeit rather pretentious and at times exclusionary, analysis of the world.
Monocle’s aimed at a segment of the population that believes itself to be of great influence- and it’s interesting to know how “tastemakers” view the world. Each of the yearly 10 issues focuses on a different theme that is explored in the categories of affairs, business, culture, design and edits. Previous issues have focused on “why the world needs the new Germany,” “reports on the front line of defence,” and “businesses, brands and nations that have the charm factor“. Its thick, matte paper is a nice textural contrast to the endlessly glossy pages of every other magazine on the newsstand (they refuse to do a mobile version), but it also makes Monocle one of the most expensive periodicals I buy on a regular basis. It’s the brain child of Tyler Brulee, the same man who brought you Wallpaper* back in the 90′s, so he’s got magazine street cred if nothing else.
Aimed at: Breezy jetsetters who are concerned with what’s going on with the people down below while they’re 30,000 feet above them. On the way to Ibiza. For a “quick getaway”.
See Also: Monocle 24- Monocle’s 24 hour radio station, aired out of the UK
The paywall sucks, but there are ways to get around it. I read the NYT mostly so that I can say I read the NYT. There’s a certain cachet to being part of the club, but their reach is so wide they really do cover everything going on in the world- from an American perspective of course. That said, it’s the New York Times, and there’s not much else to say.
Aimed at: People who like to say they read the New York Times. Crossword puzzle lovers.
See Also: Andrew Sullivan- also has a paywall, and the writing is as good, but he specializes in long-form pieces and is an independent writer so you get to feel like you’re supporting a revolution in journalism as opposed to a sinking Grey Lady.
Call it SciAm (like the former name of Thailand) if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about. I like SciAm because it’s written by scientists, science journalists, and regular people who know what they’re talking about. Their blog is one of my favourite places to start looking for information when I hear something that sounds like science but smells like nonsense. Its headlines are usually non-sensationalistic, though blog posts are sometimes obviously designed for page views. Overall, it’s good science news for people who don’t have an M.Sc. You’ll need at least a B.A. to understand it though, as it is aimed at a well-educated public. Albert Einstein once wrote for them.
Aimed at: People who hear the word “chemicals” and think, “compounds made up of one or more elements, i.e. pretty much everything, so why are you hippies freaking out over having chemicals in your food?”.
See Also: The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, my favourite podcast of all time. It’s a science/skepticism/critical thinking podcast produced by really smart scientists and activists for the public understanding of science, while having fun about it all.
(English news site)
Wikipedia says it better than I could: “The original Al Jazeera channel’s willingness to broadcast dissenting views, for example on call-in shows, created controversies in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf. …In the 2000s, the network was praised by the Index on Censorship for circumventing censorship and contributing to the free exchange of information in the Arab world, and by the Webby Awards, who nominated it as one of the five best news web sites, along with BBC News, National Geographic and The Smoking Gun.” Headquartered in Qatar, Al-Jazeera would be the New York Times if a) the Western world didn’t have knee jerk negative reactions to the Middle East and b) the New York Times was based outside of the United States.
What I like about Al-Jazeera is that you can go to different sites with news focused on different parts of the world, and the African news site is just as good as the American news site. Usually, discussions about Africa are either focused on privileged white folk wanting to feel better about themselves, or disgruntled folk of any race complaining about all the Nigerian princes that apparently want to give out millions. There’s a lot of bad going on in Africa, but Al-Jazeera reports it with integrity. Also, there’s a human right’s section of the digital publication, which makes my inner bleeding heart liberal squeal with the joy of awareness.
Aimed At: The dissidents hiding in plain sight, starting trans-national revolutions from their smartphones.
See Also: Nothing. I’ve found nothing else quite as good as Al-Jazeera.
Oh Reddit. Reddit is the seedy underbelly of the internet and the brightest, shiniest example of all the great things about the internet. I have, on many occasions, read about something on Reddit several days before traditional news media outlets pick up on the story. I have also, on many occasions, seen stories on traditional news media outlets that are directly sourced from Reddit, with the comments on Reddit being more insightful than the comments on the newspaper’s website.
Reddit is able to do all this because of the strict rules against censorship and free speech. Reddit is also the slimy underbelly of the internet because of its strict rules against censorship and free speech. You will get the best and worst of people on Reddit, but the best makes slogging through the worst absolutely worth it. Aside from the front page which is good for memes and the biggest news items from around the world, I also subscribe to and frequent:
r/ELI5- ELI5 stands for Explain Like I’m Five. Five year olds often ask really good questions, with answers that are at times more complicated then they’re able to understand. When they ask those kinds of questions, it’s best to respond with simple metaphors that allow them to understand the basics, while still leaving room for more questions as they grow. ELI5 is the subreddit where adults can ask good questions and get those metaphors too. It’s my starting point for concepts that I can’t even begin to grasp, like the physical nature of the universe, or the conflict in the Middle East. Start with this post: The 5 Year Old’s Guide to the Galaxy.
r/WorldNews- is for major news from around the world except US-internal news / US politics. I probably seem a little anti-American at this point, but I’m not. My issue with new media’s American bias is that the U.S. is but one country in the world, and I don’t even live there. Despite being just one country, the interests and values of the United States has become a dominant cultural narrative on a global scale while it’s dominance as a global superpower has been shaking for a while, and will continue to become shakier. It’s easy to take for granted that a lot of the things principles and ideologies we currently value in the Western world are actually very American values, as opposed to things that are universally true. So I make a deliberate effort to maintain a wide perspective on things by engaging with as much news as possibly from outside the U.S. I’m Canadian, I’ll hear about it eventually anyway.
Aimed at: People who will put up to poor web design in order to be on the bleeding edge of everything.
See also: r/TLDR for when you care about today’s news, but don’t have time to read all of the internet.
I don’t keep up with CBC news as a whole, just CBC radio, and the podcasts of my favourite CBC news and special interest shows. It’s good Canadian news, but where CBC really shines is in the people who lead their programs. I’m not sure how they manage this, but nearly all the hosts of the following programs are more or less amazing, and where the host fails, the topic speaks for itself. Gomeshi is iffy at times, like when he asked Whitney Houston’s mom how she “felt” about her daughter’s death, as though that’s an insightful thing to ask about bereavement. My favourite is Anna Maria Tremonti, host of The Current. She asks good questions and skillfully moderates debates between guests from wildly opposing viewpoints. When she chimes in, it’s often with a really salient point from a perspective I hadn’t considered.
Some of these shows I’ve been listening to for a decade, others I only recently tuned in to, but I stand behind every recommendation because I really do listen to every one of these shows. This is what I have in place of Jersey Shore. I put in CBC’s synopsis of each one, since there’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel.
The Current- As I said, Anna Maria Tremonti is my favourite CBC radio host. I don’t know how much influence Tremonti has in choosing guests for the debates on each episode, but I am consistently impressed at how level-headed her guests are in arguing their sides, and how well she is able to report the interests of both parties. Guests are always respectful towards one another, and back up their claims with solid evidence. It is always very quickly called out when claims aren’t backed up, or are misrepresented. This shows that when The Current chooses experts in their fields, they really are choosing experts, and you can join the debate on your own time with a pretty good overview of the issue at hand. The episodes are relatively short, rarely more than 28 minutes each (including advertising time) so it’s a nice companion during my commutes.
As It Happens- From the site: “Listening to As It Happens is like taking a trip around the world five nights a week. For more than 35 years, using the simplest of tools – the telephone – this current affairs program has explored the heart of a story, whether it’s happening in the streets of Belgrade, the dockyards of Vancouver, the boardrooms of Bay Street, or the kitchens of Paris.” Growing up, my family would listen to As It Happens together every single week. I don’t listen to it as regularly any more, but for years it was the backbone of my knowledge of the world across oceans and it’s a great point to start with if you’re just getting into international affairs.
Vinyl Cafe- From the site: “The Vinyl Cafe stories are about Dave, owner of the second hand record store, and they are collected in books and on CD. The stories also feature Dave’s wife, Morley, their two children, Sam and Stephanie, and assorted friends and neighbours. The motto of Dave’s store – and of the radio show – is “We May Not Be Big, But We’re Small”. Not a news show, but it does keep me informed about the lighter side of life, and what it means to be “Canadian”- very helpful as an immigrant. Often cheesy, but always heartwarming and hilarious, Vinyl Cafe has been a staple of my media consumption since I was 11, and each episode is just as relevant to me now as it was a decade ago.
Q with Jhian Gomeshi- From the site: “Q is an energetic daily arts, culture and entertainment magazine that takes you on a smart and surprising ride, interviewing personalities and tackling the cultural issues that matter. Hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, with his trademark wit and spontaneity, Q covers pop culture and high arts alike with forays into the most provocative and compelling cultural trends.” I already gave you my views on Gomeshi. He doesn’t always ask good questions of his guests, but a lot of the content speaks for itself, regardless of occasionally inane interviewing.
Metro Morning News, Toronto Edition- From the site: “Metro Morning is the audio version of Toronto’s Yonge Street: a central urban artery that cuts through the heart of the city and beyond; connecting people, neighbourhoods, communities, diverse pockets and populations. The program expresses the realities of life and experience in Canada’s largest city through a weave of news, current affairs and the information you need to start your day, including consistent and predictable weather and traffic.” This is a new addition to my rotation, but so far, so good. It’s a lot like everything else CBC does- solid, and solidly Canadian.
So those are the 7 news outlets I turn to on the regular, with a few other recommendations peppered in. I hope you find something useful in it. I hope you visit all of them, at your own pace of course. I hope you like some, and hate others, and develop favourites on your own that never appeared on this list. I hope you come back sometime in the future, be it a few days or a few years, and leave a comment on this post about your favourite news sources and why you like them so much. Then we’ll all sit around with our thick-framed glasses and craft beer, and be the well-informed petty bourgeois that we are, and make fun of ourselves while discussing the world.