By Lars Lofgren
The internet and 24-hour news cycles have dramatically increased the volume of information on policy, making it quite difficult to actually find the stuff worth reading or watching. Here are our strategies for filtering out the noise and learning as much as possible about the world we live in.
Cancel Your Cable. That’s not to say you should stop watching your favorite TV shows. Just about every show can be found online, giving you more control on when and where you indulge in the Jersey Shore or True Blood. Generally speaking though, the 24 hour news networks are probably doing you more harm than good. Analysis tends to be thin. Calls from the left claim media is controlled by right-leaning corporations and calls on the right claim the same media is comprised of left-leaning journalists. We simply believe measured and thoughtful analysis of policy does not make good television, hence its absence. Current domestic and global dilemmas cannot be reduced to sound bytes. Cut your cable and pick up a book.
Read Often. And by often, we mean constantly.
Get Two Daily/Weakly Publications that Balance Each Other. We happen to be fans of The Economist/Financial Times combo but feel free to substitute the Wall Street Journal, New Yorker, New York Times, The Atlantic, or any other publication that you prefer. The point is to have two publications pretty close to the center. There’s nothing wrong with going a bit to the left or the right, just try to balance it with sources from the other direction. Substituting with an online news source such as BBC.com also works and if you have the language skills, definitely follow a non-english publication like Le Monde.
Don’t Only Read Books or Newspapers. Pick up an academic journal but don’t worry, their covers are more intimidating than their articles. For foreign policy, we recommend Foreign Affairs to get your feet wet. While the format of the Foreign Affairs doesn’t allow the authors to dive too deep into their arguments, each issue is an adequate gauge of some of the more prominent arguments being proposed in current policy debates. Once your Foreign Affairs articles leave you wanting more, pick up an academic journal subscription. If math and huge data sets aren’t you’re thing, stick to the social sciences. Between sociology, history, political science, anthropology, and the other disciplines, there’s numerous first-class journals worth reading. They’re also more accessible than you think, head to your closest library and find one that explores topics you’re interested in.
Neither Accept nor Reject the Author’s Claims. At least until you’ve developed a depth of knowledge for that particular topic. Every issue, whether it be immigration, national defense spending, or health care, is rife with complications and controversies. Authors frequently pick sides but few let the reader in on the broader theoretical arguments and assumptions underpinning their claims. That being said, you should always aim to critique the author’s claims, especially if you steadfastly agree with them. This will encourage you to be critical of your own world view and find ways of evolving it.
Bookstores Do Not Offer Good Selections for Books on Current Affairs. Your bookstore may be different but our experiences have been lackluster. Whether it’s Barnes and Noble or the local independent, current affairs selections tend to be a mix between the New York Times Bestsellers, a few new releases, and the latest rhetoric from the minority American political party. Amazon.com can be just as difficult. Amazon always has it, the problem is knowing what’s worth reading. The best way to find books is by reading other periodicals, books, and papers. If you find a particular book is referenced and cited frequently, you should probably read it.
Expand Your Mind Online. There are a few sources that consistently release material of substance online. Here are the ones we follow:
- TED: A wealth of innovative and groundbreaking ideas by an astounding array of experts. If you have not spent time digging through TED, you owe it to yourself to do so.
- FORA.tv: While we still love FORA, it’s not quite as awesome as it used to be. Recently, FORA has decided to monetize much of its content, offering video of conferences from $25 to $80 per event. We have no problems with charging for premium content but since its introduction, the quantity and quality of free content has declined. Nevertheless, there’s still content worth watching and we’ll continue to follow FORA.
- Academic Earth: Entire college courses and lectures from leading universities are posted online. Not that many courses have been posted yet but considering each course has 10+ lectures, there should be plenty to keep you busy until more courses are posted.
- FRONTLINE: With over 90 archived programs available online, FRONTLINE has a wealth of information worth exploring.
Set Your Home Page to Google News. Now that you’ve cut yourself off from up-to-the-minute news cycles, use Google News to keep tabs on any breaking news and to gauge which stories are consistently grabbing head lines. You don’t even have to read any of the articles on a regular basis unless you want to. Your other news subscriptions will fill you in on the details. If you want, it’s easy to set up news feeds for certain key words which will make following specific topics a breeze.
Start Using RSS Feeds and Follow Experts. Don’t look for bloggers; look for experts that blog. There’s plenty of political bloggers vying for your attention; most don’t deliver content any better than the typical news network so it’s best to avoid them. There’s always exceptions, just be sure you know their biases. To find the experts that maintain high quality blogs is not easy. A good place to start is the Foreign Policy RSS feeds. Also check out the list of academic blogs at AcademicBlogs.org. We’ll be sure to post links of those we follow on the right sidebar. If you don’t know what RSS feeds are or don’t have an RSS feeder set up, check out Google Reader. Basically, subscribing to RSS feeds delivers updates on blogs and websites right to your reader, similar to email subscriptions. It makes checking dozens of websites much easier.
If you have any other tips for how to find solid analysis, be sure to post them below.
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