Since I saw yesterday’s press conference, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. To follow yesterday’s events with this statement—I am in horror. Somewhere there is a person who saw that press conference and took those words to be true. Somewhere there is a person who will believe that the press are making up and distributing false information. With terrifying ease, this administration has likely struck doubt into the hearts of some individuals. A year ago, gaslighting was a Hollywood prop, today it is deployed by our President.
If you know me even a little, you know that news and reporting is a subject very close to my heart. I consider the fourth and fifth estates to be one of the greatest privileges afforded to us by our democracy. Therefore, I don’t take yesterday’s stunt lightly—a representative of the highest office in our land publicly lied to the American people. It is now the mantle of the press to report on these inaccuracies with vigor, and the right of the public to demand retraction.
As I sit in my little corner of the world, ruminating on my promise to take action at yesterday’s march, I am fretting about what I can do in this moment. Without truth, without facts, who are we?
Finding Credible News Sources
I look to four primary sources for my news: National Public Radio, The Washington Post, PBS and The New York Times. They are not perfect, but I find that these outlets have done the hard work of examining their own blindspots and are constantly working to adjust for them. They have wide access to a variety of reporters, researchers and opinions and they deploy them wisely.
Access to National Public Radio is free and accessible from any device. You can stream the news anytime on their website, or download the NPR One app to your mobile device for a personalized playlist. If you have an Apple TV, you can listen to NPR on the Music app. Or, if you still own one, just turn your radio to the low end of the dial. Once in awhile, I change up the local station that appears at the top of my NPR page, just so I can hear what they’re reporting on in different communities.
PBS has erected paywalls for some of its most popular content, but you can still stream (for free) one of the most thoughtful, and quite frankly neutral, evening news reports in the form of PBS NewsHour. PBS is also still available, even to cordcutters, on any television with a receiver.
If you have a .mil, .gov, or .edu email address, you can access The Washington Post for free. If you subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can access the digital edition for six months, for free. After that, it’s $9.99 per month. If you’ve cut cable already, take $10 of those monthly savings and put it into a subscription.
The New York Times, for me, remains the standard-bearer for excellence in news and reporting. David and I have had a digital subscription to the Times for years now, and should we find ourselves in a more austere position, I suspect it would be the last of our luxuries to go. We depend on it for more than just news; our Times subscription provides access to conversations about business, technology, art and cooking (and the mini-crossword too).
It would be easy for someone to look at my primary sources and suggest that I only subscribe to elite media, but the truth is I have a very high standard for what I include in my streams. The sources I look to must be smartly written, fact-based journalism. If you have suggestions for others I should consider, I welcome them.
Going Beyond Local
It is a privilege to have my local newspaper be The Washington Post, but even so, I’ve worked hard to introduce both global and regional information to my media streams. On social media, I follow The Martinsville Bulletin, the newspaper where my parents live, and I recently subscribed to “Happening at Home,” a newsletter from Roanoke Times writer Tiffany Stevens, that collects and shares local journalism from across the country. As we wring our hands over American politics, it has been a gift to find the BBC World News Radio Service, which serves as a reminder that the world is far greater than us alone. I’m also tuning in to ProPublica, which just established a new cohort of beat reports to dig in on specific issues for the long-haul.
Media Criticism and Research
There is not a day, particularly in these tumultuous times, when I don’t miss David Carr. Carr was a prominent media critic who looked closely at the ways the press reports on issues and offered thoughts (and often tough love) on how they could do it better. No one has quite replaced Carr, but Nieman Lab and Poynter Institute have done good work in his stead. I also like what I see from media critic Jay Rosen, and Elizabeth Jensen, the NPR ombudsmen. I’m excited about the work of Melody Kramer, a media jack-of-all-trades, who prefers to work in and with the public to imagine better mechanisms for reporting. Most days I can take or leave Margaret Sullivan, the media critic at Washington Post, but occasionally her bombastic headlines are a salve for the rage burning in my chest.
One of my biggest personal blindspots is research. By the time that a fact has been stretched and pulled by both a writer and editor, it is inherently imbued with an editorial slant (Aside: I recently stopped watching CBS’s morning news after more than 3 decades because the hosts found reason to comment on every story). I’ve been looking for more ways to introduce research into my media diet, and welcome your ideas.
An Offer, and Some Thoughts on Access and Privilege
I recognize it is indeed privilege that allows me to have enough disposable income to subscribe to or support journalistic endeavors. Even the best and most intellectually filling content will not be enough to sustain those in homes where hungry stomachs and electricity bills are the greater concern.
And yet—everyone deserves access to truth. If you have internet access—whether at home, on your phone, or at the local library—then you can have ownership over your own media diet. While some of these sources have paywalls or subscriptions, you can still follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to see headlines and the best photo- and video- journalism anywhere. Each of them also have reporters who have opened their personal and professional social feeds to provide greater access to the public. During major events, including both the 2016 election and Friday’s inauguration, several took down their paywalls completely.
Even so, I want to take this opportunity to help someone genuinely interested in greater access to national news who may not have it. Our New York Times membership comes with a free one-year subscription to give away. I will also happily sponsor 2-3 others, who cannot afford access on their own, with a year-long subscription to The New York Times or Washington Post.
If that’s you, or someone you know, contact me and I’ll help set you up. It’s a small thing, but if it’s the only thing I can do right now to ensure greater reach of fact-based reporting, let it be so.
I feel like I’m beginning a chapter in Fahrenheit 451 when I say to you: be vigilant. As the surreal headlines become de rigueur, we will quickly approach a time of outrage fatigue. We have entered a new universe where facts are up for debate. It will be easy to spend hours watching Netflix, to tune out completely, but I implore you friends, stay vigilant. Find healthy ways to care for your mind and body, turn off social media once in awhile, hug your family, have dinner with your friends, but remain vigilant.