By Oset Babur
If I were to ask a random group of friends about the first thing they did every morning when picking up their iPhones, I’d be shocked if more than a few said they read the news. Narcissism takes the wheel when we have the option to scroll through either our Facebook feeds or the New York Times app. But the world, from our parents to politicians, expects us to be informed enough to make coherent arguments and cast careful votes. Is the solution for news outlets to hide the veggies under the good stuff and hope we’ll just eat both, a-la Snapchat’s “Discover” news feature? Or is it to assume that we’ll piece together what’s going on from a compilation of statuses and hashtags? Once the excuse of “I’m really busy with homework” expires, it’s time to stay informed—and not just once or twice a month because you’ve scrolled through your Venmo feed, and now there’s literally nothing else to do on your phone. Here’s how to start.
If there were a way to publicize all of your Google searches at the end of each year, you’d be really embarrassed and probably stop entering in things like “how to cook chicken,” or “what is a 401K plan.” Luckily, this doesn’t exist, so you can go ahead and ask those basic questions to gain context on the current Syrian refugee crisis, or the debates around Planned Parenthood’s funding. Don’t let news events become that calculus class you stopped paying attention to months ago, and now you’re on some advanced concept that requires a ton of backlogged learning you just can’t catch up on. Start somewhere.
Sites like Vox publish explainer articles on events as they unfold (breaking pieces like these reflect what’s known at the moment of publication, which is why it’s important to check back the next day for updates). Mic also does a fantastic job of sharing both engaging and condensed versions of news stories geared towards a younger audience (if CNN is Internet Explorer, Mic is Chrome). There’s an important case to be made for getting the news from sites that are actually tailoring their content for a certain audience. On one hand, these sites punctuate serious news coverage with articles about Adele or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. While we’d all like to pretend that we can sift through article after article analyzing context behind a terrorist attack or political gaffe, these sites want to help you focus on the facts by offering up some occasional relief from the heavier goods. Take the carrot, then learn to make this.
Subscribing to daily news updates via email is another way to stay informed, essentially by default (if you have time to open the umpteenth email about a J.Crew sale, you can at least look at today’s news digest as well). I personally subscribe to the POLITICO 2016 blast for election coverage, New York Times’ Europe daily news, and the Berkman Buzz emails. Look for sites that will give you coverage on a variety of topics and tailor them to fit your interests; if you don’t actually like reading in-depth pieces on financial news, don’t subscribe to FT’s morning blasts (there are no brownie points for signing up and serially ignoring, only for actually reading). Pick (at least) one news site to get your bread and butter, and then dig deeper on your special interest sites on tech or music.
Lastly, be your own watchdog and news analyst. There are so many sites that look to arm viewers with the ability to call out biased and downright inaccurate news stories—so take advantage of them! Media Matters for America is a great tab to leave open the next time you watch one of the debates (next to that tab explaining what drinking game you and your roommates are playing). For the truly dorky amongst us (myself included), data-driven journalism is a fascinating way to think about what kind of news coverage specific events receive. The Pew Research journalism project also releases a State of the Media report that covers everything from podcasts to paywalls–now, you too can be that dorky kid at the house party no one wants to talk to! (Come and to talk to me).
Tl;dr: Unless you don’t have internet access (in which case, today is your little miracle), cannot read (ditto), or truly don’t care about being an informed member of society, there’s really no excuse to duck out of conversations on issues you previously switched the channel on. Spend 15 minutes on a news-aggregating app, five minutes on a watchdog site vetting an article you just read, and another 10 minutes geeking out over the new iOS release that is absolutely no different from its predecessor. You just traded half an hour of Facebook stalking your ex’s new girlfriend for something much better.
Oset Babur is a recent graduate of Wellesley College, where she studied Political Science and Economics. She’s learning to embrace being a Third Culture Kid while listening to a lot of Turkish pop music, building a personal library of fiction’s greatest hits, and drinking at least three cups of tea every day. You can find her at her best when she is journaling, running, or frying bananas in butter and sugar.