Thoughts & Essays

*Citation Needed

The other day I got asked how I get my news – as in, what sources do I follow for news? So here’s where/how I get my news.

First up: Do not rely on social media feeds for your news. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, whatever. Just don’t.

Social media sites serve you content using programs (“the algorithm“) that optimize what you see based on what keeps you on their site and engaged with content. The longer you’re on their site, the more of their ads you see, and the more money they make. To that end, they are most likely to show you things that keep you engaged and on their platform.

The problem is, the things that keep you engaged and on their site are almost always going to be things that either piss you off, vindicate your pre-existing beliefs, or make you laugh, which leads to a newsfeed/timeline full of outrage porn or mindless memes and cartoons.

This is especially true on Facebook, even if you’re being ruthlessly careful about who or what you follow on Facebook. If you’ve got a whole newsfeed full of NPR and BBC News, the Facebook algorithm will still silently optimize itself to follow the “piss you off/vindicate your pre-existing beliefs/make you laugh” formula. That happens because 1) that’s the kind of reaction their algorithm prioritizes, and 2) that’s the kind of reaction human brains prioritize.

So, to help subvert that, get an RSS reader. I use Old Reader, but I’ve also used Feedly, and that one’s fine, too. Both are free.

An RSS reader collects content from sources you specify and displays every single thing from that feed in chronological order, using an RSS feed. There is no algorithm. There is only whatever content has been published lately, from a source you specified, in the order it was published.

That won’t help you with what your brain does to you; that’s on you. Human brains are pesky little lumps of juice and meat, and they’re biased towards things that set off happy sparkly hormone fireworks. Like: Jokes. Cartoons. Cute puppies and kitties. Anger. Rage.

That’s right. Anger and rage can also set off happy sparkly hormone fireworks. And those happy sparkly hormone fireworks? Shit like serotonin, adrenaline, etc.? That shit all acts just like an addiction in your stupid juice-meat. That is, in fact, part of how you get an addiction – chemical substances that set off happy hormone sparks in your skull.

And that’s not even getting into stuff like Dunning-Kruger Syndrome, which affects absolutely everyone, so you just have to know that might be happening and try to keep a lid on it. There’s no real way to escape that – that’s just how brains work. Brains are stupid wet wads of wrinkly fat, but they’re all we have to work with at the moment, so do your best.

To sum up: Don’t rely on social media because it’s optimized to sell you ads, not inform you; and don’t rely on your brain, because it’s a dumb hormone junky who likes to play tricks on you.

And now: Where do I actually get my news? So many places, you guys. So many. Here’s a few.

News & Politics: I read NPR, Talking Points Memo (particularly the Ed Blog, mostly run by Josh Marshall, a lapsed historian), several mainstream newspapers (LA Times, Washington Post, the New York Times, etc.), Reuters, and AP. The Atlantic and Bellingcat write excellent longform stuff, and I keep an eye on FiveThirtyEight, Vox (not as good as it used to be), Politifact, FactCheck, and Snopes. Buzzfeed News gets dunked on a lot, but they do good work.

Expert Blogs: These are blogs run by folks who are experts in their fields, like the SCOTUS Blog, which is run by clerks for the Supreme Court, and the Lawfare Blog, which is run by national security experts and affiliated with the Brookings Institute (which is a good read all by itself).

Other Blogs: Several of the old Gawker sites are actually pretty good reading, just so long as you’re willing to check their sources and keep a grain of salt handy. Lifehacker (and its sub-blogs, like Vitals and Two Cents), and The Root are both regular stops for me.

Special Resources: What the Fuck Just Happened Today (WTFJHT) is a news aggregator blog/newsletter that sprang up shortly after Trump was elected. The guy who runs it curates the daily Trump-related news from mainstream news sites. It aims to be the “essential guide to the daily shock and awe in national politics,” and it is a goddamn lifesaver, y’all. He sends out a free daily newsletter (or you can visit the site) that rounds up the day’s political news, with short summaries of events. See also: Current Status, a website built by the WTFJH writer that automatically aggregates the top headlines of the day.

Newsletters: Another great way to follow the news is via email newsletter, and literally everyone is putting out a newsletter right now. What’s your favorite newspaper? Trust me, they have like six free newsletters you can sign up for. I follow several NPR newsletters – the New Normal is a current fav – plus WTFJHT’s daily newsletter, along with Dave Pell’s NextDraft., run by journalist Judd Legum, is another good one.

Experts: I follow experts on Twitter. The experts I’m following change from time to time, depending on what’s happening in the world and what I’m interested in at the moment. I like following experts because they’ll retweet sources I can’t find on my own, and I can be reasonably sure they’re decent sources, because someone with expertise in a subject is reading them. This is the same reason I pay attention more to journalists on Twitter than official newspaper Twitter accounts. Here’s a Twitter list of the journalists I follow, and here’s a list of various experts I’m keeping an eye on at the moment (these folks are experts in everything from rightwing extremism to epidemiology; most of them mention their area of expertise in their Twitter bios).