– demand us to be informed, to be abreast of our situation, and able to anticipate what will shoot down the pike next. But, where to start? My sister does not know where to start and I imagine there are others in a similar situation. She asks me how I know what I know. She wonders how long it will take to brush up on the issues. This requires a lot of time many do not have, or do not care to devote.
This is a costly enterprise. Believe me, I know, I want to study voter information for my PhD. In fact, there’s an equation proving that obtaining the necessary amount of information to qualify as an informed voter outweighs the benefits of voting. I probably shouldn’t talk about that right now.
Well, how do voters reach their decisions? Do they educate themselves about the issues? Do they even vote on issues? That last question could spin me off into the nether regions of the universe, so we won’t go there. If voters educate themselves about the issues, where do they get their information? Do they go to Fox’s Sean Hannity or MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann? Do men and women read the XX column on Slate about women’s issues and news? What about The Daily Show and The Colbert Report? Does one read Goodwin’s pop-history, Team of Rivals or stick to their local news affiliate for everything one needs to know? How has technology and social networking changed the way information is disseminated? And how many of us are single-issue voters? Some people only care about about gun rights or the protection of various endangered species. Or are we information specialists? Do we concentrate on understanding one issue and let the rest fall away? Do we self-select and choose the information that confirms our worldview? I found during the marathon election, especially, when poll numbers were dipping for Obama, I went to the most partisan websites because they were the most satisfying emotionally. Huffington Post, anyone?! But, not necassarily of the best quality. Regardless, these are all complex questions with many roads and destinations. And worst, ignorance has have very real consequences (see: the last eight years).
I may have written about this book before, The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby, but it cannot be touted more. This book explains Americans’ aversion to education and knowledge. This book explains why science has lost its high place in the national consciousness. It explains our hyper-religious devotion which is especially odd in comparison to other advanced industrialized nations (i.e. Europe and Japan (and Mexico – if we’re talking OECD countries)). It really is fantastic. It also provides light when the cloud of dumb Americans darkens your way. Don’t forget 50+ million people still voted for McCain.
So, this is for my little sister.
On How to Read the News.
Well, there are a great many choices before you. There’s radio, television, print, and the internet. And certainly, the best and most effective – word of mouth. Under the umbrella we call radio, there’s talk radio on the AM side (Rush Limbaugh who reaches between 10 and 14 million people every day, according to the Washington Post and Wikipedia!), public radio (Hang On, NPR!) and a whole lot of crap in between. I would recommend staying away from Rush, even though he seems to be acting like the de facto leader of the GOP.
On television, you have the local network affiliates and PBS stations (Front line and Washington Week are the best), cable news networks (and on Comedy Central from 11Pm – 12am EST Mon – Thur), CSPAN, and if you have satellite or digital cable: Bloomberg TV, some extras affiliated with CNN and NBC, and my personal favorite: Current TV. Current TV is led by Al Gore. It is a global network that runs viewer submitted content. And if you fly Virgin America, Current TV is there for you!
A bonus about CSPAN is that the majority of their footage can be watched online. But, the tabs at the top are really important because the ‘resources’ tab has an awesome index of news sources.* But, this should go under the internet section and shall be continued there.
Television is not your best bet as you can see. Not a ton of variety unless you empty your wallet for dish network/direct tv or digital cable.
I always recommend print because it is better for your eyes. Magazine subscriptions are cheaper than they used to be because there is an effort to keep an inevitable death at bay. But, to get even cheaper magazine subscriptions: go to Amazon. Sign up for any of the magazines I have listed along the side of my blog here. From The New Republic to Mother Jones to ColorLines to Bust Magazine these are all great magazines that need our support. Don’t forget those practical ones like The Economist, Fortune and/or Forbes, and Black Enterprise. These magazines have fantastic websites – well, most of them. And legit blogs, too. Well, the ones that have more time and resources than your ole sis at Lucky Thirteen.
And since we keep ending up at the internet, let’s hang out here for awhile. Check out the radio stations’ websites. NPR has great links and podcasts (if you’re into that). On TV sites, *CSPAN’s website has the resources tab, as I told you before which has a list of policy organizations. Often, these sites have current events in their world, or all around news, and sometimes blogs. Think Tanks and Research Organizations are on here (check out Pew and Gallup) which has interesting reports. Well, these are the places I will end up working one of these days, C. Non-Profit websites are informative for specific issues. And the first place to go is the UN (it has the UN News Centre: radio, tv and webcasts!) and WhiteHouse.gov (for specific departments and federal agencies).
And as always the best way is word of mouth, you can always ask me. 😉
And for more on The Daily Show Effect: