How can I become less ignorant regarding current events, without having to read dry, third-person-omniscient points of view?
January 4, 2009 8:31 PM   Subscribe

How can I become less ignorant regarding current events, without having to read dry, third-person-omniscient points of view?

I am completely, woefully ignorant with regards to current events and politics.

I read a lot: novels, Harper's, the New Yorker, etc, but when I try to read the front pages of the newspaper, my brain grinds to a halt, unable to find the sense of people and character, personal points of view or the exposition of new ideas that I normally read for.

Does anyone have any recommendations? When This American Life did a story on the financial crisis, I found that very accessible, and found myself wishing they covered more current events in that fashion.

I'm going to persist with trying to read the front pages of the paper, but right now, it feels like such a chore. Any recommendations of blogs, magazines, podcasts or TTC courses, etc would be most appreciated.

Please help me be less ignorant!
posted by surenoproblem to Education (25 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
If you can stomach a bit of TV, I find the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer to be an accessible, intelligent newscast with a high standard of journalistic integrity. My work schedule keeps me from getting much heavy reading in, so I admit to being a bit of a DVR Newshour addict when I get home at night.

Note that the broadcast is available as a podcast if you don't want to watch the boob tube.
posted by pianoboy at 8:45 PM on January 4, 2009

Find yourself a couple of high class left-wing blogs and a couple of high-class right-wing blogs and read them.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:50 PM on January 4, 2009

Joe Sacco does great first person journalism in comic form. Not the current news you may be looking for but I think they provide honest and useful context for recent events.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:50 PM on January 4, 2009

How about the Guardian Weekly? The print version may have too much of the dry reporting you don't like (although it is high quality), however, there are always good stories with a more personalised, humanised slant and these can be found on their website.

The current front page of the website has a personal account of the bombings in Gaza, and another on life under Hamas; a story about the Christmas wish list for a local burial society in Zimbabwe; a podcast on the Bush years. Also interesting podcasts.

Reading these sorts of stories can give you that connection to the events happening that will make them more interesting, even when you do just hear the straight story.
posted by AnnaRat at 8:58 PM on January 4, 2009

posted by pompomtom at 8:59 PM on January 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Economist.
posted by mendel at 9:13 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are countless current event podcasts. Fresh Air is great. Sometimes it is very timely, and other times it deals with less time-sensitive issues. You might also look into the podcasts of some of the well known commentators, whether they are of the same political persuasion as you or not. Just keep in mind the difference between opinion and news. Podcasts are a painless way to get a lot if information while driving, walking, working, waiting in line, etc. And if you don't have an iPod or other MP3 player, you can listen on your computer, or burn them to CDs.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:24 PM on January 4, 2009

From Our Own Correspondent has, for over fifty years, been giving the personal accounts of BBC foreign correspondents, describing the people, places and stories behind the headlines. Highly recommended.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 9:45 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Travel is a great way to come to a better understanding of foreign cultures; not so much with coming to a better understanding of current events. Walking up and down Wall Street wouldn't do much to teach you what's happened to the economy and where things are headed.

Seconding The Economist. It doesn't provide the kind of personal/narrative point of view as TAL, but it does have an enjoyable amount of biting wit that most news organizations don't. And there's always comedy/news programs like The Daily Show, Colbert Report, and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me; while you won't get as much depth from them as you might from The Economist, they're good for the broad strokes and are plenty entertaining.
posted by sinfony at 9:55 PM on January 4, 2009

The War Nerd is a fascinating, completely un-PC look at conflicts around the globe. He's got an abrasive, at times bordering on bloodthirsty writing style, but for my money he's exceptionally good at laying out the origins and realities of contemporary conflicts.
posted by Happy Dave at 10:48 PM on January 4, 2009

I enjoy Le Monde diplomatique. (Yes, it's in English.)
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:14 PM on January 4, 2009

The War Nerd is great. Actually, a lot of writing at Exiled Online is worthwhile.

Lately I've been getting to know Open Salon. Not sure if I'll stick with it, but it's a great improvement on the newspapery writing that you referred to.

By the way, I rarely read newspapers anymore, for the very reasons you cite.
posted by telstar at 12:20 AM on January 5, 2009

Planet Money is an excellent podcast from NPR that was spun off from This American Life after the success of the stories you mentioned. Though it's probably common knowledge at this point, since I think it peaked at #1 on iTunes.
posted by abcde at 1:58 AM on January 5, 2009

The Bugle has been really useful to me. It's just John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman being silly about current events, but it honestly helps me understand the issues of the day better. It also makes my brain feel more like knowing the news isn't a big crazy hurdle of an assignment I have to give myself, but just something people can do without much fanfare.

The Australians I met in a dive bar last fall were shocked that I knew anything about what was going on in Australia. I didn't tell them I knew what I did because of a goofy satirical podcast. Heh.
posted by lauranesson at 2:44 AM on January 5, 2009

I feel the same way. But have given up fighting it. Above suggestions are great, but another option is to accept the fact that you don't like newspapers. Two guys I admire, Tim Ferriss and Nassim Taleb argue pretty convincingly that reading newspapers/trying to keep up with daily news is a waste of time.

Instead, both advocate reading weekly publications and books, which sounds like exactly what you're doing. These tend to be synthesized and more carefully written than daily journalism, with a much higher signal-to-noise ratio.

So keep doing what you're doing!
posted by oqrothsc at 6:04 AM on January 5, 2009

nthing the Economist. Eevery issue is chock full of useful information, along with stories about stuff that may not necessarily get much play in other media. Love it.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:07 AM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by getmetoSF at 6:40 AM on January 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

No offense intended, but if the front page of the paper feels like a drag, The Economist will feel like getting dragged over a bed of nails.
posted by KAS at 9:56 AM on January 5, 2009

Agreed. The Economist is precisely the kind of reading the OP would have a problem with.
posted by speedo at 10:50 AM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have started listening to Salons Political Gabfest podcast each week. I recommend that as a source of interesting people talking about what went on that week.
posted by wittgenstein at 11:37 AM on January 5, 2009

I really liked the English version of Der Spiegel for exactly what you're looking for. I stopped reading it, however, because I started to have a hard time with the anti-Muslim stuff they peddle, although this would probably be a problem with many European news sources.
posted by thebazilist at 11:53 AM on January 5, 2009

Nthing NPR news programs, although maybe you've already tried this seeing as you're a TAL listener. I think radio is a fantastic alternative, I also hate sitting down to read newspapers usually.

I keep NPR Morning Edition on as I'm getting ready in the morning, and then All Things Considered and Fresh Air in the evening. Even if I'm only half-listening some of the time, I've found I still absorb a lot of current events info and feel out of the loop if I miss a day or two. They also throw in the human interest stories, reviews and opinion pieces/commentary to liven things up.
posted by dahliachewswell at 3:50 PM on January 5, 2009

The Wall Street Journal is a concise publication - especially if you skip the editorials.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:26 PM on January 5, 2009

Everyone prior to me has listed good individual news sources. If you are looking for one particular site just see what is going on in the world try these:

Unfiltered news:
Google News
Yahoo News

Somewhat Filtered news

Filtered news
Most Emailed News: All The News That’s Fit To Link

Happy Hunting
posted by Paleoindian at 7:08 PM on January 6, 2009

I disagree and would contend that The Economist does indeed have a friendlier, more readable vibe than the front page of the paper. It's as far from the standard dry third-person-omniscient narratives as you're going to get in a format that could still be called straight-up news (which is not very far, but still).
posted by abcde at 7:59 AM on January 7, 2009

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