Sunday, December 27, 2009

I've stopped reading newspapers and it's Barack Obama's fault

About two years ago I posted in response to a media consumption diet meme that was floating around the blogosphere. Here's what I said about my daily news sources:

Every day I skim through the e-newsletters of a mix of newspapers. The obvious ones of course -- NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times -- but also I try for some smaller regional outlets. Right now I'm enjoying the Boston Globe. ... At the moment I am reading the London Independent and Der Spiegel (English edition).

...I also subscribe to a number of slightly less obvious news sources, including Alertnet from Reuters and IRIN from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Those two guarantee a steady diet of highly authentic and usually quite dismal news from various NGOs dealing with crisis around the world. Lately I've been getting a daily update from Madrid 11 which gives an internationalist look at global security and democracy issues.

Another really interesting newsletter for world hot spots comes from the International Crisis Group, though it is worth remembering the source -- the international "realist" establishment.

Most of these still populate my email inbox daily (though I dropped the Washington Post in disgust at the drivel on its editorial page). And I've added the McClatchy afternoon summary,, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and Salon among others. But truth be told I sometimes go for days without looking at these "publications."

You see, the reason I read the news has changed with the new administration. Under Bush, keeping informed was essentially defensive: I wanted to know what corrupt or vicious shenanigans they were up to. These people were about looting and imposing their vision of the world by force, nothing much more complicated. Scanning some major news sources offered up a far too copious menu of abuses. On slightly more esoteric subjects of particular interest to me, like for example my old friend "the no fly list," a few Google alerts meant I saw any major developments.

Under Obama, I want to know what the administration and Democrats are doing because they came in claiming they are working for fixes on issues I care about: our unsustainable casino-capitalism, health care reform, climate change, restoration of the rule of law, and even our endless wars on other peoples' countries. If I want to understand what movement (if any) is going on in those arenas, a daily play-by-play as provided by newspapers doesn't help much and may even obscure reality.

Example: President says: "no more torture." So far so good. But administration confirms that persons captured anywhere in the world still may be held indefinitely without legal recourse in U.S.-military-run prisons in Afghanistan. Not so good. But the newspapers only get to the contradiction days after more deeply involved writers point them out. So I don't much look to newspapers on these subjects.

These days I have to dig into the policy weeds on matters I care about. This is harder than just reading the paper, but it goes with the political circumstances. And, just as with the newspapers, it doesn't mean I fully believe or trust all the sources I read faithfully.

How I approach keeping track depends on my underlying knowledge of the subject. On casino capitalism, I've never been very informed: I find the games of the very wealthy pretty boring though their real world repercussions are obviously of vital interest. So on this front, I'm reading books; readers will have seen the results on this blog. I also check out a few blogs, especially Paul Krugman and Baseline Scenario.

I promised myself I wouldn't get lost in health care reform details, but the protracted, super-heated politics around it captured me sometime in the summer. These days, I check in faithfully with Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn.

Climate change understanding is about the same age as the internet, so it is no surprise that the best sources are online: I use Grist and Real Climate. Again, because my underlying knowledge base is relatively low, I also try to read and write about books on these issues.

On the legal stuff, I'm heavily reliant on Glenn Greenwald, the ACLU, and Andy Worthington.

As for the wars, I've known for decades that U.S. newspapers, though they sometimes try, are not the best sources about the realities of our empire's foreign adventures. Since I'm actively involved with organizing in opposition to the empire's permanent wars, I am fortunate to be plugged into a several email lists that share useful sources. I can relatively easily sort through these sources because this is something I know something about. Juan Cole's Informed Comment is still a must read.

In addition I do try to pick up on headline news of the day; I visit sites that aggregate themes that interest me, such as Talking Points Memo. That one has a bit too heavy mix of scandal and silliness for my taste, but it's AP feed picks up many basic stories. I also find The Washington Independent and The Plum Line useful. For newspaper columnists, I pick up quite enough from the DailyKos "Your Abbreviated Pundit Round-up" posts. And for the state of political agitation, nothing beats Firedoglake; if we get a health care reform that does anything for ordinary people (seems unlikely as I post this on 12/15), they get major credit.

And then I have niche interests: having worked in the politics of the Episcopal Church recently, I follow The Lead, Susan Russell's blog and Walking with Integrity. For aging, life and community, I participate at Time Goes By. And for 49er football, I check in at the San Francisco Chronicle's coverage.

Another media consumption novelty I want to mention is Twitter. I've figured out what Twitter is for, at least for me. I'm frequently asked, "what can you say in 140 characters?" Well, some people do quite interesting posts in that limited framework, but I don't use Twitter for content so much as to "follow" other people whose extended work interests me. Where once I might have put a Google alert on the name of a reporter whose writing interested me, now I follow tweets (when I have time). Current favorites include Adam Server who is thoughtful about race at The American Prospect's blog and Daphne Eviatar on legal issues.

Anyone want to pick up this meme? Just write out how you keep up with news -- and especially if your sources have changed over the last few years. I was stunned to realize how differently I'm choosing to stay informed these days than I did even a very few years ago. How about you?


sfmike said...

You and a score of other idiosyncratic souls are my news portals these days, and thank you for paying attention to a number of important monomaniacs so I don't have to.

Chuck Blanchard said...

A great list--including many sources I rely on for my news. (Ezra Klein, in particular, was the essential read on health care). On foreign policy and national security issues, I highly recommend , which has a large and diverse set of well informed bloggers on all things foreign--my personnal favorites are Mark Lynch, Dan Drezner and Tom Ricks.

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