figuring out how to stay informed

I am doing my best to stay informed. It's not easy.

Through many years of interactions, I know that readers of this blog are bright, insightful, and generally much smarter than me, so this post may not be all that useful to you. Still, here is what I am doing to try and keep up with what's happening:

1. Find the Reliable Sources
I've spent a fair bit of time this week trying to refine my sources of news and information. Generally, I rely on The New York Times, The Economist, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books; with occasional articles from The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. I am still looking for center-right publications focused on long form pieces that might offer balance.

The presence of a pay wall or subscription is essential; it means that the organization does not live or die by clicks. (Caitlin Keegan wrote an excellent breakdown on clickbait and hot takes in Social Media Literacy 101.)

I am thinking twice about the links I share, and taking a moment to try and make sure the source is legitimate. Fake news is everywhere. I found Melissa Zimdars' 'Tips for analyzing news sources' helpful.

The Columbia Journalism Review is also worth following; they report on how the news is reported, which (to this non-journalist) is a useful primer on what to look for when I read an article.

And though they get savaged by some conservatives, I haven't found radio or TV news that surpasses the quality of NPR, PBS and the BBC.

2. Listen to All Sides
Social media gives us all direct access to what people are saying, and I am trying to take advantage so that I see and hear things myself, and don't solely rely on interpretations. On Twitter, I have tried to reconfigure my follow list to include a wider array of people, including experts on domestic and foreign policy, feminists and activists, the official accounts of the Democrats and the GOP, and the President Elect, in addition to organizations like the ACLU and The Southern Poverty Law Center. I also added my Congressional representative and senators.

I am spending time finding writers and thinkers I respect on Twitter, then going through their follow list to see who is there, and to gauge the legitimacy of different sources of information.

3. Read Critically
Endless scroll has made me a master skimmer, but my focused reading skills could use a tune up. I'm starting with Harvard's excellent outline on thinking-intensive reading.

One of the recommendations is to make notes and write questions, which is hard to do on digital articles and tiny screens. I know I read differently when I have an actual magazine or newspaper in my hand, so I am weighing the environmental costs of print against the need to read more intensively.

4. Use the Dictionary
A lot of heavy words are being thrown around; I am trying to make sure I understand precisely what is being said. Just about every day I come across words I need to check.

Here are some of the words I've looked up this week — the definitions come from Merriam Webster (MW) and The Oxford Dictionary (OX).
authoritarian: of, relating to, or favoring blind submission to authority; of, relating to, or favoring a concentration of power in a leader or an elite not constitutionally responsible to the people (MW)
autocracy : a form of government in which a country is ruled by a person or group with total power; a country that is ruled by a person or group with total power (MW) 
demagogue : a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power; a leader championing the cause of the common people in ancient times (MW) 
Fascism: Often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition; a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control (MW)  
intersectionality: the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect (MW definition - but it is not in the dictionary yet)
kakistocracy: Government by the least suitable or competent citizens of a state; a state or society governed by its least suitable or competent citizens (OX) 
kleptocracy: government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed; also : a particular government of this kind (MW)

post truth: relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief (OX)
plutocracy: Government by the wealthy; a state or society governed by the wealthy (OX)

5. Set Limits
The news is crazy right now, and in a media environment that feeds on frenzied clicks, it is like being hit by daily tsunamis of facts and useful action mixed in with misinformation, misdirection, half-truths and outright lies. I don't want to fritter away my outrage on nonsense, so I am making the effort to resist the headlines and focus on outlets and voices I trust. And I may need to start setting a timer so I don't get lost online. Clickbait is called clickbait for a reason. 

It's an imperfect start — and if you have thoughts on how it could be better, tell me — I am always trying to get better at this stuff: evencleveland (at) gmail dot com, or @evencleveland on Twitter.


Thank you for your warm support of my last post. I appreciate it, and it makes me hopeful that together we will somehow find a way through this.