12 Steps to Becoming Well-Informed

Earlier this summer, the Wall Street Journal asked several NYU almost-grads who Janet Yellen was. Most couldn’t name her title…despite the fact that she was their commencement speaker.

Unfortunately, this lack of knowledge about the news isn’t unusual. In 2010, a Pew Research Center study found that just 14% of people under 30 could correctly identify John Boehner as the incoming Speaker of the House. In 2007, that same center found that more Americans were watching the news, but knew less about the world. Sure, keeping up with the news can be scary, intimidating and depressing. But it’s also necessary: how will you save the world if you don’t know what’s wrong with it? That’s why we’ve put together this guide to staying well-informed, so you’re never as embarrassed as those ill-informed NYU grads.

1. Make a daily commitment.

Newsflash: Keeping up with the news takes work. This isn’t a final exam you can cram for – you have to keep up with the news consistently each day. We recommend twice a day, checking once in the morning and once in the afternoon to see how the news has progressed. If you just skim the headlines online, this should only take a few minutes. But if you want to understand what’s going on a little better, you need to devote about an hour each day. Does that seem like too much? You can get a fair amount of news in that time if you watch TV, listen to a podcast, or scroll through a message board. If you prefer to read, don’t be afraid to start small. Skim the headlines for 15 minutes each day, reading only the most interesting articles at first. Whatever you decide, make a daily commitment and carve out a little time in your schedule to keep up with the news.

2. Find the positive.

The Israel-Palestine conflict, the disappearance of flight 370…. the news is sometimes an unhappy place. It’s not uncommon for learning about the world to depress you – but there is good news coming from all corners of the world. If you find yourself losing faith in humanity, seek out more positive channels: try Global Voices, Upworthy, or even SuperheroYou to learn about awesome people doing awesome things. Mainstream media also has a tendency to sensationalize the worst parts of a story, so dig a little deeper. The truth might not be as bad as it seems. Finally, if staying well-informed takes a toll on your sanity, don’t be afraid to take a break. Keeping abreast of current events might be important, but your mental health comes first.

3. Go local and global.

You shouldn’t only know about events going on in your neighborhood or just know about events 5,000 miles away. Stay balanced by following various news sources that cover local, national and global news. Don’t be afraid to work up to the global. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try focusing on a specific region of the world that interests you. You could quickly learn enough to help you in potential academic or professional endeavors.

4. Go deeper.

The problem with daily news is that it rarely gives you an in-depth look at important issues. Try reading books, magazines like Time or Newsweek, or investigative programs like 60 Minutes. You’ll seem way smarter with very little effort. If you’d prefer to laugh, the late shows also often spin today’s headlines into comedy fodder. We’re big fans of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Try watching this viral FIFA clip for a taste of his style.

5. Stay balanced.

As hard as journalists try to remain impartial, all news sources are in some way biased. Get the whole story by seeking out coverage from all sides. Watch out for political and national interests –  try reading the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, or watch both MSNBC and Al Jazeera English. Don’t be afraid to venture outside your comfort zone to learn alternate perspectives. Put those critical thinking skills from college to good use.

6. Use your free time wisely.

Most of you will claim you don’t have an extra hour each day to devote to current events. So use the time you do have wisely. Scroll through a news app while in line at the doctor’s office. Watch the morning news while you get dressed in the morning. Listen to NPR on your drive to work. Set your homepage to your favorite news site, customizing it if you wish with iGoogle or MyYahoo. News comes in so many forms, there’s bound to be one that fits neatly into your schedule.

7. Customize your social media feeds.

Chances are, you spend several hours each day scrolling through Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. So why not make it more informative? Follow news organizations and personalities on these platforms to add a dose of news into your cyberstalking. On Facebook, you can also see the day’s trending stories on the right side of your Newsfeed, while Twitter allows you to create Lists with specific people for an easy digest of the day’s headlines.

8. Do a little research.

One problem with the news is it’s easy to get lost if you miss just one day, let alone have never picked up a paper before. Research if you need to, clicking on links within the story or looking at any suggested reading. If you’ve missed just one day, read the Letters to the Editor for a quick update. If you’re starting from scratch, check out Wikipedia’s Current Events portal. Select a month and year for a summary of all the important events that happened then.

9. Talk to other people.

There’s no use staying well-informed if you keep all that newfound knowledge to yourself. The best way to learn about an issue is to discuss and debate it with others. If your friends or colleagues aren’t interested, share your thoughts in online forums or in the comments sections about specific articles. Discussing an issue will deepen your understanding of it, especially if your conversation partners have a unique perspective or new knowledge to add. Just be nice about it. Reading one article about a subject doesn’t make you an expert, so ask questions and learn from your peers. Discussing the news is a great way to stay sociable since it gives you an automatic conversation topic at parties. Don’t be the person who turns a friendly debate into a contest about who knows more.

10. Aggregate.

Staying truly well-informed on more than a couple of issues is tough. For the news you want to hear but aren’t passionately interested in, use a news aggregator to get a summary of today’s headlines. Try an RSS reader or app like Circa or Pulse, or deliver it straight to your inbox with TheSkimm. Some stations, like NPR and BBC, will also run through the day’s news highlights ever hour so you can listen to it on a break from work.

11. Know what’s news… and what isn’t.

Are you well-versed in every detail of Jelena’s relationship? Can you name every movie coming out this summer? Entertainment news is fascinating, but it’s just that: entertainment. It’s fine to obsess over The Bachelorette… unless you can’t also give a brief explanation of the Israel-Palestine crisis. Superheroes have fun, but they pay attention to societal issues that matter too.

12. Don’t be afraid of paywalls, but don’t discount them either.

One surprisingly common excuse for not keeping up with the news is that it’s just too expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Free websites, podcasts and TV clips abound – you can even follow a lot of global news on YouTube! If you prefer hard copies, check out your local library. That said, some reputable news sources are worth it, and many subscriptions cost less than a beer on Friday night. If you have the money, spend it and help keep the ‘death of journalism’ at bay.

Did we miss your favorite tip to stay well-informed? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook or Tweet us @SuperheroYou!

Written by Sasha Graffagna

Photo Credit: Ines Njers via Compfight cc

Earlier this summer, the Wall Street Journal asked several NYU almost-grads who Janet Yellen was. Most couldn’t name her title…despite the fact that she was their commencement speaker.

Unfortunately, this lack of knowledge about the news isn’t unusual. In 2010, a Pew Research Center study found that just 14% of people under 30 could correctly identify John Boehner as the incoming Speaker of the House. In 2007, that same center found that more Americans were watching the news, but knew less about the world. Sure, keeping up with the news can be scary, intimidating and depressing. But it’s also necessary: how will you save the world if you don’t know what’s wrong with it? That’s why we’ve put together this guide to staying well-informed, so you’re never as embarrassed as those ill-informed NYU grads.

1. Make a daily commitment.

Newsflash: Keeping up with the news takes work. This isn’t a final exam you can cram for – you have to keep up with the news consistently each day. We recommend twice a day, checking once in the morning and once in the afternoon to see how the news has progressed. If you just skim the headlines online, this should only take a few minutes. But if you want to understand what’s going on a little better, you need to devote about an hour each day. Does that seem like too much? You can get a fair amount of news in that time if you watch TV, listen to a podcast, or scroll through a message board. If you prefer to read, don’t be afraid to start small. Skim the headlines for 15 minutes each day, reading only the most interesting articles at first. Whatever you decide, make a daily commitment and carve out a little time in your schedule to keep up with the news.

2. Find the positive.

The Israel-Palestine conflict, the disappearance of flight 370…. the news is sometimes an unhappy place. It’s not uncommon for learning about the world to depress you – but there is good news coming from all corners of the world. If you find yourself losing faith in humanity, seek out more positive channels: try Global Voices, Upworthy, or even SuperheroYou to learn about awesome people doing awesome things. Mainstream media also has a tendency to sensationalize the worst parts of a story, so dig a little deeper. The truth might not be as bad as it seems. Finally, if staying well-informed takes a toll on your sanity, don’t be afraid to take a break. Keeping abreast of current events might be important, but your mental health comes first.

3. Go local and global.

You shouldn’t only know about events going on in your neighborhood or just know about events 5,000 miles away. Stay balanced by following various news sources that cover local, national and global news. Don’t be afraid to work up to the global. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try focusing on a specific region of the world that interests you. You could quickly learn enough to help you in potential academic or professional endeavors.

4. Go deeper.

The problem with daily news is that it rarely gives you an in-depth look at important issues. Try reading books, magazines like Time or Newsweek, or investigative programs like 60 Minutes. You’ll seem way smarter with very little effort. If you’d prefer to laugh, the late shows also often spin today’s headlines into comedy fodder. We’re big fans of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Try watching this viral FIFA clip for a taste of his style.

5. Stay balanced.

As hard as journalists try to remain impartial, all news sources are in some way biased. Get the whole story by seeking out coverage from all sides. Watch out for political and national interests –  try reading the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, or watch both MSNBC and Al Jazeera English. Don’t be afraid to venture outside your comfort zone to learn alternate perspectives. Put those critical thinking skills from college to good use.

6. Use your free time wisely.

Most of you will claim you don’t have an extra hour each day to devote to current events. So use the time you do have wisely. Scroll through a news app while in line at the doctor’s office. Watch the morning news while you get dressed in the morning. Listen to NPR on your drive to work. Set your homepage to your favorite news site, customizing it if you wish with iGoogle or MyYahoo. News comes in so many forms, there’s bound to be one that fits neatly into your schedule.

7. Customize your social media feeds.

Chances are, you spend several hours each day scrolling through Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. So why not make it more informative? Follow news organizations and personalities on these platforms to add a dose of news into your cyberstalking. On Facebook, you can also see the day’s trending stories on the right side of your Newsfeed, while Twitter allows you to create Lists with specific people for an easy digest of the day’s headlines.

8. Do a little research.

One problem with the news is it’s easy to get lost if you miss just one day, let alone have never picked up a paper before. Research if you need to, clicking on links within the story or looking at any suggested reading. If you’ve missed just one day, read the Letters to the Editor for a quick update. If you’re starting from scratch, check out Wikipedia’s Current Events portal. Select a month and year for a summary of all the important events that happened then.

9. Talk to other people.

There’s no use staying well-informed if you keep all that newfound knowledge to yourself. The best way to learn about an issue is to discuss and debate it with others. If your friends or colleagues aren’t interested, share your thoughts in online forums or in the comments sections about specific articles. Discussing an issue will deepen your understanding of it, especially if your conversation partners have a unique perspective or new knowledge to add. Just be nice about it. Reading one article about a subject doesn’t make you an expert, so ask questions and learn from your peers. Discussing the news is a great way to stay sociable since it gives you an automatic conversation topic at parties. Don’t be the person who turns a friendly debate into a contest about who knows more.

10. Aggregate.

Staying truly well-informed on more than a couple of issues is tough. For the news you want to hear but aren’t passionately interested in, use a news aggregator to get a summary of today’s headlines. Try an RSS reader or app like Circa or Pulse, or deliver it straight to your inbox with TheSkimm. Some stations, like NPR and BBC, will also run through the day’s news highlights ever hour so you can listen to it on a break from work.

11. Know what’s news… and what isn’t.

Are you well-versed in every detail of Jelena’s relationship? Can you name every movie coming out this summer? Entertainment news is fascinating, but it’s just that: entertainment. It’s fine to obsess over The Bachelorette… unless you can’t also give a brief explanation of the Israel-Palestine crisis. Superheroes have fun, but they pay attention to societal issues that matter too.

12. Don’t be afraid of paywalls, but don’t discount them either.

One surprisingly common excuse for not keeping up with the news is that it’s just too expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Free websites, podcasts and TV clips abound – you can even follow a lot of global news on YouTube! If you prefer hard copies, check out your local library. That said, some reputable news sources are worth it, and many subscriptions cost less than a beer on Friday night. If you have the money, spend it and help keep the ‘death of journalism’ at bay.

Did we miss your favorite tip to stay well-informed? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook or Tweet us @SuperheroYou!

Written by Sasha Graffagna

Photo Credit: Ines Njers via Compfight cc

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