Remember the old days—you know, October—when you didn’t need to care about the news if you didn’t want to? Those days are over. Even if you preferred to stay away from current events before, we all need to stay informed about what’s happening in our country right now.
But what if you’re not a news geek by nature? In this age of fake news sources, biased media outlets and “everyone’s an expert so long as they’ve got a Facebook account,” how do you know what to believe? I’ve fielded a few inquiries about reliable news sources over the past few weeks. In response, I’ve cobbled together something of a New User’s Guide to Reliable News Sources in an Unreliable Atmosphere here.
Please note what the list below is NOT. It’s not comprehensive. It’s not foolproof. It’s not assembled by an inhuman, bias-free robot.
I’ve selected a few resources to serve as starting points for people who haven’t previously been regular consumers of news and who want to begin to equip themselves with actual facts on a regular basis. With that goal in mind, here we go.
First, a couple of guidelines
- Is it true? Before accepting something as fact, look to see if you can find a second reliable source for it. This is not as hard as it sounds. Google the “fact” you’ve just read that made your jaw drop. If it’s something that just happened five minutes ago, this might be difficult. But other reliable sources should have it within an hour at the most. Usually it takes only minutes for other outlets to pick up something real.
- Look for media outlets with a solid reputation for investigative journalism. Sometimes that means they will run negative stories about people you like. Sometimes they will mess up. Always, the questions you want to ask are, how often does a media outlet do the hard work of digging deep and getting the story right? Do they seek out and report the facts?
Reliable media outlets
Print and/or digital editions of print publications
- It’s 2016, but the old standby print journalists are still, for the most part, doing the best job of getting the story and getting it right. This includes, of course, their digital editions. So a great way to get real, factual news is to subscribe to the print and/or digital editions of one of the major city newspapers, e.g, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The L.A. Times, etc. The digital editions of these papers update throughout the day, so you can stay informed as things happen if you choose. (A note about the “bias” that some people will warn you about in these newspapers: most newspapers with sizeable circulation separate their reporting pages from their opinion pages. There are usually different editors for these sections, and the above listed papers follow this practice. The opinion pages may in fact lean in one direction or another politically. The reporting pages focus on investigation and reporting of the facts.)
- Your local newspaper. Subscribe to your paper, either in print or online, and read it. Know what’s going on in your community. The quality of these newspapers runs the gamut, so again, it’s always good to check what you read with a search to confirm something that catches your interest. Did your representative really say that? Find out for sure before you get angry.
- Are you really obsessed with what’s going on in Washington? Subscribe to Roll Call and/or The Hill.
- Online editions of some foreign media outlets can be reliable. Try The Guardian or com, both from the U.K.
- Wire services, like AP or Reuters. You can download their news apps onto your phone and customize to your interests. Reuters also has a user-friendly site and an RSS option if that’s how you prefer to get your news. (You will also see wire services’ articles in newspapers.)
- Snopes.com. You heard something and you don’t know if you should believe it? Go to Snopes. They may not always have the fastest check on the latest political appointment, but they may, and it will be accurate. Did the President-elect really say those words during that interview in 2014? Is that urban legend about the call coming from inside the house really true? Ask Snopes. (Note: I taught my kids to use Snopes for rumors and urban legends years ago. Don’t ask me if Bigfoot was spotted downtown. Ask Snopes.)
- Politifact. The Pulitzer Prize-winning website that rates claims by elected officials and other political types.
- PBS NewsHour is excellent, particularly if you are looking for national and international coverage. Beyond that: nothing. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but right now, I don’t think anyone else is up there presenting unbiased news coverage. This is not to say that there are no individual TV journalists with integrity. Of course there are. But they are trying to stay afloat in a world racing for ratings that’s more than willing to toss impartiality overboard. If you watch news on TV—as I have always done until very recently—and you hear something interesting, double-check it elsewhere first.
How to receive the news
- Pick up the physical newspaper or log in online and read. The most obvious methods, but not the most efficient.
- A digest in your email inbox. You can make staying informed easier. If you swear by the New York Times, for instance, you can go to their Preferences page after you’ve subscribed, check what kind of news you want to follow and whether you’d like it sent to your inbox as a daily digest, a weekly digest, etc. The news will then come to you in the form of headlines and ledes. Then you decide what you what you want to read and what you want to ignore.
- A news reader. You can also choose to use a news reader app like Feedly that will let you pick and choose among media outlets and topical categories. Then you simply open your app to see the stories it picks based on your choices, and again, you decide what to read. Flipboard is another popular news reader.
- Bite-sized, on-the-surface & with attitude. If you like your news super-fast, super-condensed, and somewhat snarky, sign up for The Skimm It does exactly what it sounds like it does: skims the four or five most important or “newsy” headlines for you, condenses them down to a paragraph each—with attitude—and drops them into your inbox every weekday morning. Each Skimm summary includes links you can click on for Skimm-prepared details if you want to know more. The Skimm folks are scrupulous about avoiding anything that could be perceived as taking a side, sometimes to the point of missing elements of a story. (I recommended The Skimm to my teenage son as a way to introduce him to daily infusions of news beyond the sports page.)
“News” that is probably not true
- Ads on Facebook
- Uncle Bob’s Facebook rant
- Anyone’s post on Facebook if you can’t verify its contents with a reliable news source (see above)
- Rants, accusations & anything accompanied by name-calling in the comments section
- Text that sounds like the above from the comments section
I’ll stop here. Have I left stuff out? Yup. As I said at the beginning, this is a starting point.
Newsy readers, what would you recommend to folks who want to dip into reliable, relatively unbiased news waters without becoming overwhelmed?
 My grammar-check is telling me that “actual facts” is redundant. That’s because my word processor’s grammar-checker was constructed before 2016, when people didn’t question whether facts really exist. No, I’m not making that up.
 The New York Times will give you excellent national, international and NYC coverage. The Boston Globe does the same for Boston, but includes a bit more of the surrounding Boston area. The Washington Post is more government and politics-intensive while covering all of the D.C.-area. As for The L.A. Times, I only read the occasional article, but what I read is done well.