Ever since I was little, I have always loved “the news.” I remember watching the local news as an elementary school student and absolutely loving it. In a lot of instances, I had no idea what was going on, but it made me feel informed. As a young second grader, it was by watching the local news before school that I learned of the tragedy now known as 9/11. I still remember the voice of one of our local newscasters, Dan Evans, announcing that they had “breaking news” from New York. That breaking news turned out to be one of the most horrific scenes I have ever witnessed. Truthfully, I have never been able to look at “breaking news” the same way. Looking back, I think that day cemented in my mind the important role that reporters and journalists play to keep us informed about world events.
Unfortunately, with the advent of social media, talk radio, and cable news we are constantly bombarded with posts and news alerts that do nothing more than double down on our biases. We seem to follow only those that we agree with, and push out those who don’t conform to our world view. This creates an echo chamber that might make us feel good about ourselves and our opinions, but does it really inform us? I think it might be wise to follow the pattern of our first President, the great George Washington. In referring to President Washington John Adams stated, “He seeks information from all quarters, and judges more independently than any man I ever knew.”
I’m certainly not as wise as George Washington, but I thought I would share with you the different ways in which I try and stay informed with the news around me.
I am no journalist, my day job is being the CFO at Thread Wallets, but I have learned something interesting about how journalism works. Newspapers are set up where they have both a newsroom, that simply reports the news, and an opinion side, which can slant either to the left or to the right or somewhere in between. It is important to remember this distinction when searching out good information. I read my fair share of opinion journalism, but try to spread my opinion reading out across the political spectrum. I will share more on this later.
The Wall Street Journal: I first subscribed to the WSJ during my undergrad at BYU in 2016. I have always loved their newsroom and find it a remarkably unbiased source that tries to play things down the middle of the road. The Wall Street Journal certainly focuses on the financial world, but does so in an engaging way. As a partner in a small business, I love reading the news through the lens of business.
I also enjoy their “weekend reads” which delve into random topics that feature gorgeous photography and fun reporting. For an example of this, see “How the Rich Fish” an in-depth article on the money spent by wealthy home owners in order to have the perfect trout streams and ponds. Another favorite is about a restaurant at a ski resort in Europe that is in the middle of a funny and somewhat ferocious border dispute.
I would highly recommend subscribing to the WSJ. You can also access the WSJ through Apple’s News+ subscription on your phone.
I subscribed to the Washington Post mainly for their political reporting. Their newsroom does a great job at following our national politics. Since I subscribed I have come to love their reporting on climate change, which has won them a Pulitzer prize.
To make sure my reading is well rounded to include both sides of the political spectrum, I make sure to read both the WSJ opinion page (leans right) and the Washington Post opinion page (leans left) and then try to form an opinion based on what I read.
As a point of reference both of the stated newspapers usually give out good subscription deals for new subscribers. You should give them a try! I promise that it is money well spent.
Another great way to get information is from podcasts. If you aren’t a big reader, or would rather consume your news by listening there are plenty of good podcasts out there.
I have found that throughout the course of the day, I have a few minutes here, and a few minutes there to listen to a podcast (or two or three.) Between driving to and from work or brushing my teeth, I have the time to stay informed via podcasts.
Here are a few of my favorites.
FiveThirtyEight: This weekly podcast (about an hour in length) covers the biggest happenings and issues in politics. I find the crew that hosts the podcast to be funny, engaging and quite unbiased. Their founder, Nate Silver, is a data and stats guru, so the podcast focuses more on data driven conversations and avoids hot takes. If anyone were to take one hour a week and listen to this podcast, I am confident you would have a good idea about what is happening in and around Washington DC. Whenever there is breaking news, or a BIG political game changer, they host additional podcasts to cover the breaking news.
You might also like to take a look at their website. They have one of the most robust presidential forecasts around, in addition to showing all recent polling. If you want to know where the presidential stands at the current moment, head on over to FiveThirtyEight. Again, with a data driven approach, they do some very good work.
The Dispatch: A relatively newcomer to the political scene is The Dispatch. They pride themselves in avoiding hot takes and giving rock solid and in-depth commentary on the happenings at the national and international level. Their podcast airs on Wednesday.
Just as I mentioned above that there are distinctions between newsrooms and opinion sections at newspapers, this divide also exists within TV news. (At least it should in theory.)
Many cable news programs are quite popular and can be entertaining but Tucker Carlson, or Rachel Maddow are not considered news shows. They are opinion shows. In many instances they are there to not inform your opinion but to re-enforce your previously held opinion. These types of shows create an echo chamber where all you hear is what you want to hear. Depending on what station you are tuned into, you might either believe we are living in some sort of hellscape, fueled by Putin controlled GOP puppets, or we are living some sort of MAGA paradise, where President Trump is draining the swamp while riding on the wings of a flock of Bald Eagles.
As with most things in life, the answer to where we are at as a country is much more nuanced that talking heads on cable make it out to be.
This is why I am extremely selective with the shows I watch on cable news.
Here are the two shows on TV that I watch consistently.
Special Report: Fox New’s chief political anchor, Bret Baier, hosts Special Report, which covers the news each weekday. I have been an avid watcher of the show since the 2012 election. He has a tag line about being “fair, balanced and unafraid” and I tend to agree with this sentiment. If you were to watch his show for at least one week, I am quite confident you would have no idea where Bret’s show sits on the political spectrum. Editorially, he approaches the show by bringing in people from all sides of the political debate and letting the viewer decide what is right. I find this to be a breath of fresh air in a cable TV landscape that is saturated with partisan actors who are pushing agendas.
Fox News Sunday: Chris Wallace has been hosting Fox News Sunday for years now, and I truly believe him to be one of the best in the business. He asks pointed, but fair questions of anyone who joins his show and he is no doubt one of the best interviewers in the business. If you want middle of the road, you should tune in to Fox News Sunday.
Sitting Down With Friends
Without a doubt my favorite way to learn about politics is by sitting down with friends (usually over a good meal) and listening to their points of view on any given topic. I am convinced that this type of conversation needs to happen more often all around the country if we are to bridge the widening partisan gap between us. We need to get back to knowing our neighbor as more than a political label. We are first and foremost Americans. Left and right matters less than the common bonds that unite us. It’s time to put down our phones and open up our hearts and minds to those who believe differently than we do.
Senator Marco Rubio (R) summed this idea up nicely when he said the following from the senate floor. “You know, political divisions have existed in our country since its very beginning. What has changed is that there was a time not so very long ago when Americans knew each other, when Americans had political differences, but they also served on the PTA board together. When we disagreed about who to vote for, but we coached each other’s kids in little league or we were members of the same church and worshipped together or we lived side by side as neighbors. And so when all you know about someone is who they voted for. But you know them as a fellow parent, as a neighbor, as your children’s coach, as someone you live side by side with, then you know them as a person. It’s a lot easier to dislike a political opponent than it is to dislike the whole person.”
In an interview for his recent book, American Carnage, Politico writer Tim Alberta writes about an encounter he had with former Vice President Joe Biden that I have found to be quite instructive. This quote has stuck with me ever since I read the book at the beginning of 2020. “Back then” Biden says in referencing less partisan times, “Lawmakers in both parties understood that socializing across the isle was a significant part of doing their jobs. It was an era that allowed us to get so much done, because we actually got to know one another. We got to each others family’s. We got to know all about each other. When you know somebody it’s awful hard to dislike them, even when you fundamentally disagree with them. When you know, God forbid, that their wife is going through a bout with breast cancer, or their son has a serious addiction problem or their daughter just lost a baby…You know what I mean. It’s hard.”
In the last few weeks before the election, I’m sure we are bound to hear rhetoric that continues to escalate in denouncing “the other side”, “the radical left” or the “fringe right.” It is my hope that we can all cut through this partisan noise and find some time for the news and conversing with our friends and neighbors wherever that might be.
I’m excited to hear what you find.