You need to quit getting your news on Facebook.
Right now. I mean it.
There you are, madly clicking stories shared by your friends, who probably tend to think like you. On top of that, Facebook tends to note what kind of stuff you like and show you more of the same, so even if you have friends who disagree with you, you’re not seeing many of their posts. You keep clicking, never really sure if you’re going to a quality site or some sketchy place that traffics in conspiracy theories or even malware. After all, when you read an titillating headline on social media, one looks about as good as the next.
You know you need to make a change. I’m going to tell you how.
- Decide who you trust to give you the information you need. I look for media that have (a) a large staff of good reporters and editors, (b) a recent history of solid performance in accuracy, and (c) a clear division between news and opinion. I don’t always get the third, but the first two are non-negotiable. For me, that translates into the Washington Post and New Yorker (I’m only dealing with national news in this post. We’ll talk about local news another time.) There are a lot of others doing good work, but those are my essentials, supplemented by NPR and a few others.
- Pay for the quality news. Advertising alone won’t keep the reporters paid, so if we want good coverage, we have to support it. I pay for The Washington Post and New Yorker and support NPR and my local affiliate, WBHM. This also helps me stick with my plan for getting quality coverage, because when I pay for something, I like to get my money’s worth from it.
- Go straight to the news site. Set bookmarks in your browser and visit the sites directly. This helps them financially, because they get more ad dollars from direct traffic. (By contrast, they get a mere pittance when you read them on Facebook.) But most importantly, it gives you control of your own news reading. Why on earth would you sub this important task out to strangers on Facebook?
- Limit your news reading to an hour per day for “hard” news — that is, the developments of the last day or so. That’s really the outside limit. (I’m not counting longer magazine articles, such as the ones you’ll find in the New Yorker or other quality magazines. Those are a longer term investment and usually well worth it.)
- Budget your junk food — your “news entertainment” — and indulge guilt-free. Up to this point, I’ve been talking about news nutrition — the meat and veggies of your news diet. This is the part that keeps you healthy. But hey, sometimes you want a big bowl of ice cream and a beer (preferably not at the same sitting). This is where the cable news networks come in. They’re a horribly inefficient way to stay informed, but they can be great fun. Just remember that they’re donuts and chips, not peas and carrots.
- Finally, learn to love podcasts. If you’re a news junkie like me, they give you a way to gorge without neglecting your job or family. NPR, Slate, New Yorker and dozens of other news organization have an excellent lineup of news-oriented programming. Download a good podcast app and start exploring.