There’s so much stuff coming at us, from so many directions, that we can’t possibly sort it all out. So here are some ways you can make better use of your time, stay informed and avoid misinformation.
Read your news rather than watch it. We can read much faster than we can watch TV, and you’ll get more serious reporting that way. Learn to use Feedly or Flipboard, which enable you to quickly scan headlines of dozens of publications in a fraction of the time it would take to watch a local TV story about a guy with a trained parakeet. Then you can actually read the ones that look worthwhile.
Use your ears. How many hours did you waste last year listening to ranting idiots on sports talk radio saying things like, “State’s gotta quit trying to run up the middle”? I listen to NPR a lot, but I also enjoy listening to podcasts. Install a podcast app on your smartphone (I use Podkicker, but there are a number of very good ones.). There are scores of excellent podcasts ranging from news programs you couldn’t hear live (minus the commercials) to news/political programs to humor. Break it up so you don’t get bored. (If you feel like you’re missing out on cable news, at least you can do it this way while you’re accomplishing something useful.)
Pay for quality journalism. Subscribe to Washington Post or The New York Times, and your local newspaper, if you still have one. I know, you may feel like the Times and WAPO are liberal rags, but they still have some of the best reporters in the business, and they do have paywalls now, so if you read them much, you’ll soon be asked to pony up. Depending on where you live, you can probably subscribe to your local paper for $12-15 a month. Even if you can get it free online (or through Feedly or Flipboard), consider it an insurance policy on your future information flow. You don’t have to take the “dead tree” version. The point is to support a valuable resource (or one that should be), because if reporting news ceases to be profitable, your news will disappear and you won’t have your “free” news either. I also strongly encourage you to support your local NPR station. NPR has the best broadcast reporting readily available in the U.S.
Read to be informed, not to share. One danger of using an RSS reader like Feedly or Flipboard is that it’s very easy to hit the “share” button and put a link on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook. If you’re not careful, you’ll catch yourself sharing things you haven’t read, which can be embarrassing and annoying. Keep the horse in front of the cart by remembering that the point of reading news is to read news – not to link it.
Nix the viral sites. The Internet and your Facebook feed is awash in memes, videos of dogs greeting their owners returning from war, and pirated pictures with text across of them. The’re all a waste of time, and the entire “viral” phenomenon has sparked an industry of low-quality stuff with splashy headlines. The “hot” ones nowadays are Upworthy and Buzzfeed, but that could change by the time you read this. You’ll know it when you see it. Even worse, they’ve become a breeding ground for hoaxes that will just make you look stupid if you share them. Just stay away like they’re poison, because they are.