The best news sources

Despite significant advances in media and communication technology, high quality journalism remains something hard to come by. Newspaper revenues are in decline, caused by a shift to reading the news online. To make matters worse, many people choose to get their news via social media, eschewing the need to visit news websites at all. As a result, most people do not read high quality analysis. Both the internet and the printed newspapers are dominated by tabloids, who are notorious for sensationalising news, deliver poor quality and often superficial reports, and largely promote a right wing authoritarian worldview.

To combat this lamentable development, I’ve listed here some newspapers and magazines which I think are well worth reading. And if given the opportunity, I would recommend paying for your news as much as possible. If you are at university, speak to your librarian- your library may be subscribed to some newspapers already, allowing you to bypass paywalls.

In America, one of the best news websites is Vox.  I frequently quote Vox for all sorts of things. They get into the details of public policy; the subtle differences between Congressional healthcare plans or tax proposals for instance. They have a global outlook, coverings events like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Brexit thoroughly. They also produce some very informative videos. On YouTube, their video explaining the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia is fantastic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veMFCFyOwFI. Vox is very progressive in its outlook, but they are very aware of the criticisms of their ideology. Like most American progressives, they’re very conscious of issues of identity (race, gender, class etc), but they’ve had writers like Mark Lilla argue that Democrats ought to be more unifying in their rhetoric. Overall I’d wholeheartedly recommend them.

The nearest thing Britain has to Vox is the New Statesman. Like its American cousin, its unabashedly progressive, but also has some dissenting writers. Its explanatory journalism is excellent. The New Statesman also has strong coverage of culture, with long sections dedicated to book and theatre reviews. But it isn’t as global as Vox; a sizeable majority of its articles are about events within the UK.

For great, balanced coverage of the whole world, The Economist is a great site. They are amongst the most global of news organisations, covering elections in every major country. Their articles are always interesting and thought-provoking. I also like the Economist’s relatively unique ideology- it’s liberal, pro-globalisation, but far more fiscally conservative than its main competitors. It’s articles are written anonymously, so it reads as if it could have been written by one person, particularly as all of its writers share roughly the same views. Thus, the Economist could be seen as a bit of an echo chamber, but none of its arguments are from ignorance or superstition.

A magazine I enjoy reading but shouldn’t be taken too seriously is the Spectator. It’s generally very conservative, but with some liberal writers as well. It’s articles are always provocative and well-argued. Like the New Statesman, it has excellent book, TV and theatre reviews. Having said that, some of it’s columns are complete nonsense- someone even recently argued that Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal would be a good thing. James Delingpole, a notable climate change denier, is a frequent contributor. Also, some of it’s writers are a bit prejudiced. Taki, who write the High Life column, seems to hold refugees and Muslims in contempt. He’s an ardent fan of Trump, and believes in a Jewish conspiracy to influence Washington, a bit like Pat Buchanan. Overall, the Spectator is very entertaining, and if you’re not a conservative, it’s a great way to have your views challenged. But if an absolute dedication to factual accuracy is what you’re after, you best look elsewhere.

I am more lukewarm about newspapers than the magazines mentioned above. I would recommend the Times and the Guardian in the UK, and the Washington Post and New York Times in America, for solid and up to date news and sports coverage. The Times and Washington Post are relatively balanced, with writers from both the right and left (though the Times is slightly more conservative.) The Guardian and New York Times are fairly left-wing, the Guardian especially so since the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. While they all offer relatively good information and analysis, I find they aren’t as informative and detailed as the magazines. They can be guilty of using clickbait to attract readers. The newspaper most guilty of this is the Independent, which often writes poor quality but controversial articles to get attention. These articles simply adhere to leftist dogma and notions of social justice, with no acknowledgement of an alternative perspective.

I’m afraid I can’t recommend any television channel in good conscience. All of them cover the news simplistically. Fox News is the worst offender, choosing the eschew the important developing story of the Trump administration’s links to Russia. Fox is a barrage of propaganda and hyperbole, which holds any dissenting view in complete contempt. It is also guilty of vile misogyny, frequently judging women by their appearance. It’s worth noting that Fox’s female presenters are considerably younger than the men.

Other television channels have the opposite problem. By adhering to strict impartiality, they cannot offer meaningful analysis of events. They simply list various points of view which are more eloquently explained elsewhere. They host debates between commentators which frequently descend into shouting matches, leaving the viewer with no idea of what the truth is. Other commentators will avoid questions (Kellyann Conway), or even lie. Impartiality can also allow mistruths to be presented as alternative opinions. The obvious example is climate change, which can be presented as a genuine debate when in reality, there is a consensus amongst scientists that climate change is caused primarily by human activity.

If you’re a busy person, radio can be a great way to get the news. You can listen to it while doing work or eating. Unlike its television wing, BBC radio is worth checking out. The World Service is still a strong as its ever been, and for British listeners (or anyone whose interested in British politics), Radio 4 is well worth a listen. Of course, the BBC’s impartiality limits the depth of its analysis. But unlike on television, there aren’t any shouting matches. Commentators have time to explain their views, and are also properly challenged for their views. In America, NPR does some very interesting programmes. I would avoid commercial radio though. Partly because much of your time will be wasted listening to adverts. But also because it isn’t as good quality. Talk radio in America is hopelessly right wing, with radio hosts spewing out conspiracy theories about the Clintons or Obama not being a real American.

 

 

 

  • Carmen

    Owen, thanks for a helpful guide into the thick forest of media both in the UK and US. Personally, over the decades my criteria for evaluating the work of reporters, editorials, books, magazine articles et al. have evolved.

    First, in politics–if the subject involves killing of human beings, how has the newspaper, magazine, radio, TV et al. framed the coverage? For example, the NYT and the Washington Post robustly supported U.S. wars since 1945 until obvious defeat was at hand. The most egregious examples–Viet Nam, Iraq, Lybia, and Syria.

    Second, in economics– (a) do the reigning orthodox models in the nation cause immiseration of human beings? (b) are writers, reporters clear on the political assumptions and historic roots underlying their theories, with terms like “austerity?” (c) are challengers to these orthodox models given adequate (if any) coverage?

    The criterion that no longer serves well is the so-called “balance” measure. For example, the election of Trump and the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict make clear that so-called “balance” has become a way of avoiding inclusive analyses which yield a more truthful presentation.