I believe in the value of reading the news (see my review of Stop Reading the News for some of my reasoning). In this post, I briefly outline my current news consumption habits. My habits have changed quite a bit over the last year or so (not necessarily for the better), so I would not be surprised if they are different a year from now. In that case, I might write a follow-up post.
Before we talk about news consumption, it is important to acknowledge that we cannot understand news without taking time into account, and in particular supply-side factors such as the publication frequency and deadlines. As we outline in our book on opinion polls as news: “Whether something is newsworthy is conditional upon the frequency in which news is published (Galtung & Ruge, 1965). For example, as Tim Harford describes in his book, How to Make the World Add Up, there is a big difference between what counts as financial news in the rolling coverage of Bloomberg TV, the daily newspaper Financial Times and the weekly newspaper The Economist because of the publication frequencies.” (p. 28). Accordingly, I will describe my habits in connection to time frequency.
Similarly, we need to consider the demand-side factors. In this case, this is mostly related to how busy I am relative to what is going on in the world. If I am very busy, no news is relevant to me. If I have nothing to do, news is great for procrastination. If a lot is going on in the world, I read more news. You get the point. Accordingly, my habits are not fixed. The description below is not my “average” news consumption, but closer to my news consumption in a busy news week when I have the time to actually read the news.
I read most news. I find it ineffective to consume news as audio (e.g., podcasts and radio) and video (e.g., news broadcast and YouTube channels). It is much easier to skip repetitions, identify relevant stories, skip repetitions (get it?), ignore ads, etc., when you read. Also, I find it easier not to form an opinion about an event when I read about it (not that it is a good thing in and by itself, but it makes it easier to move on to other things).
I do not follow news in real-time. I have disabled all push notifications on my phone, and I do currently not follow any dynamic news feeds that automatically bring me the latest news. I gave up on using Twitter earlier this year, also for news consumption, and I have not missed Twitter (or any other social media outlets) since then. And I do not see myself getting back on Twitter. (As Dave Karpf describes it, Twitter is only going to get worse from here.)
I do not subscribe to the idea of ‘breaking news’. The only thing such news is good for is breaking my workflow. This is not to say that news cannot be important, even to the point where I would like to hear about it straight away, but in general I find most ‘breaking news’ to be of little importance and, in some cases, only breaking right now because they will not be relevant next week. In other words, some breaking news is only breaking because there is uncertainty about the significance and magnitude of an event, or/and due to the lack of any important news.
Last, I do not subscribe to any newsletters. I do not want to use my inbox for news, and I fail to understand the appeal/renaissance of newsletters. That is, I aim to use my mailbox only for content intended for me personally, and not as an ineffective tool to consume news.
When I am using my Mac, I usually check for updates in my RSS feed reader every hour or so (if not more often). I prefer to check RSS feeds instead of social media feeds. The reason is simple: I want it to be clear when I am running out of news to consume. Or as Matt Birchler correctly describes it: ‘In a world where we all struggle with how much we use our devices (let’s be real, we mean our phones), I think it’s kinda nice to have some places that just give up and tell us, “my dude, you’ve read it all, go do something else.”’
With RSS feeds, I do not need to check any other webpages for updates. I really like the setup where I can check for updates in one place and when it is empty, I do not need to visit any other sites or services. This is also the reason why I only follow newsletters with an RSS feed. Again, I do not want my mail to be full of different newsletters. One good thing about Substack, for example, is that you can follow Substacks via RSS (just add
/feed/ to the URL of the Substack).
I follow hundreds of RSS feeds, and (luckily) most of them are not updated often. Some of them are only updated once or twice a year. For news and takes on news, I follow NextDraft by Dave Pell and Garbage Day by Ryan Broderick, sites such as Hacker News and Slashdot, the daily assorted links from blogs such as Marginal Revolution and kottke.org, and weekly assorted links from blogs such as Fave 5.
Daily newspapers are overrated. You do not miss out on a lot if you do not read the news of today. Simply put, if the difference between today and yesterday is of no interest at the end of the week, it should be of no interest at all. For that reason, you get a higher return if you consume weekly magazines instead of the daily newspapers.
That being said, if I have the time, I read Financial Times and Wall Street Journal. There is a significant overlap in terms of themes and topics, but I see that as a feature. They do not take too much time to skim through and they provide a good overview of what is happening in the world and what is on the agenda for the day.
To me there is no doubt that The Economist is the best magazine to read on a weekly basis. The signal-to-noise ratio is eminent. Sure, it is not perfect, but it covers a lot of material. I usually read this in parallel with The Week, which I can also recommend (especially if you are located in the UK). I also really like The New Yorker. It is a bit more random whether I get to check out magazines such as Bloomberg Businessweek and Politico EU, but I am rarely disappointed when I do. For updates on scientific research, I read New Scientist and Science Magazine. I have liked New Scientist since I had a good interview experience with a journalist back in 2019.
Monthly and beyond
For monthly magazines, I always go through The Atlantic. While technically not monthly (with ten issues a year), it is always full of good content. I also enjoy Wired (usually a few good features on issues related to technology) and Harvard Business Review (some pieces can be a bit too business-y, but it is easy to get a sense of what is worth your time). I like the idea of reading magazines such as Esquire or GQ, but … hey, look at me. I am convinced that they only exist to sell me stuff I really do not need and a matching watch.
For bimonthly magazines, I like to read Foreign Affairs and MIT Technology Review. Both magazines are great but it is somewhat random whether I get to read them or not. However, if you are into international politics, Foreign Affairs is definitely a must read.
Finally, while I guess it makes little sense to read books for news, I believe reading some books fit into this category. I have recently read new books related to economics (e.g., We Need to Talk About Inflation by Stephen D. King), politics (e.g., How Westminster Works . . . and Why It Doesn’t by Ian Dunt), psychology (e.g., Nobody’s Fool by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris), technology (e.g., Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson), etc., that all provide information on contemporary events I would describe as news (or, at least news to me!).