Back in the day before the internet, there was a correlation between being perceived as an informed person and the numbers of newspapers and periodicals you read on a daily basis.
Now, with the advent of instant updates, communication, and the micro-sourcing of news, there are now limitless ways for you to keep yourself informed about the world around you.
Step One: Deciding what you want to know.
Just get to the point! I want to be able to hold a conversation about important issues. What’s important in the world today?
Well, asking the question this way is bound to get completely subjective answers. It makes sense. Go up to a random person on the street and ask what the most important issues are in the world today. The people who don’t respond with their own personal lives are bound to give a whole host of different answers.
Now, the most difficult part of this first step is realizing that a sounding chamber for your own ideas is not the best way to be informed. This is going to come as a hard truth to some folks who refuse to consult certain sources because of the bias of the source.
Let’s get it out of the way here, yes, most sites that present the news have a bias. I prefer sites that come right out with their bias and you can take their analysis accordingly.
Step Two: Getting Started: Aggregators
News aggregators are a great way of starting your quest to learn more about the goings on in the world.
Sites like Google News and the Drudge Report are good examples of this style. The presentation between the two, however, is remarkably different. While Google News is a strict aggregator and filters results either based on your preferences or by popularity, Drudge provides links to suit an ideologically conservative mindset. Despite the fact that Drudge is sometimes a bit of an alarmist over what makes the coveted headline spot, the fact that the site is always rapidly updated will assure you that you are on the cutting edge of current events.
A similar type of presentation is available on the Huffington Post from the liberal side of the political spectrum. However, the Huffington Post is a content generator more than an aggregator. Thus, while Drudge links to external sites that may have their own agenda or lack thereof, the Huffington Post provides an immediate spin to an event taking place.
Aggregators and rapidly updating sources are a great jumping off point to know what is going on in the world.
Another effective aggregator of opinion pieces is Real Clear Politics. Especially leading up to an American election, Real Clear gives effective polling data and a broad spectrum of analysis.
Step Three: News Creation Sources
The next step should be to visit the often linked “raw material” of news outlets. Specifically, the Associated Press and Reuters. When you later read articles about an event, you will notice much of the language of the article, and even the entire article, itself, will have been drawn from these sources.
Step Four: Reading the News
Once you have some general concepts as to what the major events going on in the world are, you should choose a few major, national and international presentations of the same topic. For example, reading the New York Times and the Washington Post will give you a fairly good overview of content and the facts of a particular event. However, when you are seeking analysis of a topic or story, the presentation of both sources tends to be on a liberal trajectory. This is not surprising given the target market and the heritage of print media.
The next step after consulting the national headlines is to also consult international sources. Personally, I tend to enjoy the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, and the BBC. Though each of these is a British publication and has a slant similar to the major American sources, they are easily accessible and do not require any translations. (Using .co.uk can usually get you the versions meant for Brits, by the way.)
To be sure, when you notice that there is an international event happening in another country, it is sometimes worth it to look at sites in that country. However, be careful with these sites that are particularly close to the action because they will often reflect a partisan worldview.
As a case-study, the Donbass War in Ukraine was covered both by the Kyiv Post and Ria Novosti (as well as the on-again-off-again arm of the Russian propaganda ministry, Russia Today). The split in covering the uprising in Eastern Ukraine was immediately evident with Kyiv calling the uprising an invasion and the Russian news sources referring to the government in Kiev as Nazis.
Step Five: Read the Analysis
Now that you have a good factual underpinning of a given issue, you should look for analysis. One of the places I like to go for a fairly broad spectrum of opinion on geopolitical issues is Foreign Policy. Depending on the issue, you could also try blogs.
For example, I am very interested in Catholicism and the traditions of the Church. So, over the course of my wanting to stay informed I read the following blogs on a daily basis: Father Z’s Blog, Rorate Caeli, Whispers in the Loggia, and Dr. Ed Peters’ Canon Law Blog.
Once you have developed a factual foundation for events, you can better characterize the reliability of the blogs or analysis you are reading.
Step Six: Read the Opinions
Everyone has an opinion. Informed opinions are far better than the alternative. Even when someone’s opinion is diametrically opposed to yours, in the event it is supported by facts and evidence, it is usually worth a read. This isn’t to say that the other side is right, but to say that reading opinions that disagree with your own helps to make your opinion more nuanced.
You’ll be able to notice this when you discuss ideas with other people, especially the people who disagree with you. While I don’t encourage you to get into an argument, in the event you are having a spirited discussion, you will be able to know what the other side is planning to say before he or she says it. Consequently, you won’t be caught off guard.
Also, it’s important, especially in a world where many of the current events and crises around the world have very compelling facts on both sides, to know what the other side is saying. Especially when you are trying to espouse new or controversial ideas like libertarianism, it is important to be able to note the arguments made by all of the sides of the status quo. Just because you know you’re right doesn’t mean that everyone will simply follow suit.
It is up to you where you go for your opinion pieces. Sites like Real Clear Politics, as I mentioned above, have a good daily selection of opinion pieces from many different websites. I recommend going there and using that as a springboard for what sites you begin to check with some regularity.
Step Eight: Wikipedia.
No, I’m not kidding. Especially over the past five years Wikipedia has become an excellent source to start your learning process. Especially when it comes to current events with both sides of conflicts attempting to edit the internet to get their side favorable coverage, Wikipedia’s quality standards can present facts clearly and flag commentary that is not well-cited.
Additionally, if you need to research the history of a conflict or if there is a region or place in the world you feel you need to know more about, reading the Wikipedia article is a great idea.
Even more, check the cites on Wikipedia. On current topics, there are countless links at the bottom of each entry that can send you to in-depth analysis.
In closing, there is no such thing as being too informed about any issue. Once you’ve jumped in and have decided that it’s time for you to get involved in the news or current events, you’ll have opened yourself up to being able to have a more complete picture of the world around us.