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It’s easy to stay informed

| Wednesday, September 10, 2014

As I write this, I am surrounded by faces staring at screens. I am staring at a screen. Odds are, you are staring at a screen or have at least checked one in the last three minutes. These plates of glass have evolved to accompany us at each juncture of our daily lives, from the moment we compulsively check email at our waking to that final scroll down Instagram at day’s end. This ubiquitousness is often a favorite topic of lamenting grandparents, talk show hosts and social psychologists, but at the moment, I am more concerned with what those screens are delivering — particularly when it comes to news.

The amount of information we have the ability to access is endless: 24­-hour news networks, an infinite collection of apps and the entirety of the World Wide Web. And while our screens are doing the best they can, we can be inundated with only so much of this limitless information at a time. Therefore, we must choose what we receive and how we receive it.

The modern media landscape is vast and rapidly changing. Though many of us have televisions in our dorms and apartments, few of us regularly watch the nightly news as many of our professors, parents and grandparents do. The same goes for newspapers, radio and even magazines, to varying degrees. But we all check Facebook and Twitter, perhaps get news updates from apps on our phones and hopefully even check an actual news website from time to time.

Although the media diet has changed, there is no use in lamenting about disengagement. There are simple strategies for maintaining an adequate level of informedness that anyone in possession of a screen should adopt. These strategies will help you use the apps you already have to be a better news consumer and more informed person.

Bookmarks and apps

According to a 2009 study released by the Council for Research Excellence, American adults spend roughly 8.5 hours each day looking at their computers and phones. With this in mind, two minutes on a news site to scan the headlines should be more than easy to set aside. Do it when your newsfeed is nothing but touchdown pushup pictures; do it when you need a break from an essay; do it in the seven seconds before your next Netflix episode loads. In the same vein, it takes 30 seconds to visit the App Store, download a news app of your choosing and “Allow notifications.” From then on, your tired thumb will not even be burdened with the exhausting task of an extra tap, for blurbs will be automatically transmitted to your home screen. The ease of these habits is genuinely ridiculous, but the absence of them in so many people’s routines is even more so.

Follow and like

In addition to adding a button to your bookmarks bar and an app to your home screen, make adjustments to your current portals. Once again, it takes a minimal amount of effort to seek out three or four Twitter and Facebook profiles of quality news sources. By following and liking just a few pages, your existing habits of social media perusal will help you effortlessly become better informed. Headlines and links to stories will be included in the feeds you already read. They will serve as reminders that an outside world exists and hopefully will inspire you to learn more about what’s going on. More often than not, it happens to be interesting.

Good sources

Where we get the news is as important as if we get the news. As a culture, we hold a deep mistrust for “the media,” which has become a contentious phrase in itself. However, this scorn is for the most part misguided. By weeding out low­-quality (albeit popular) news sources and having the discipline to think critically not only about the events being covered, but also about the coverage itself, it becomes fairly easy to recognize and appreciate top­-notch journalism. One of the most important steps is to remove politics from the equation. Good journalism is neither “liberal” nor “conservative,” regardless of how stridently such ideas are screeched these days.

Good journalism is a concentrated effort to present a true account of events within the appropriate context. With that in mind, it must be emphasized that Fox News is not news. MSNBC is not news. Do not consult these unless you wish to analyze competing ideologies and viewpoints. If you wish to be truly informed, turn to respected sources that invest in true journalists rather than talking heads. These include the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the Washington Post, NPR, BBC and Al­ Jazeera. All of the above — and scores of others — have websites, apps, Twitter handles and Facebook pages.

So please, bookmark, download, follow and like. With information at our fingertips and screens in hand, there is no excuse not to.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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