This is a regularly updated post, last updated July 16, 2023.
On July 03 2021, the subject of media and news sources came up in a conversation I had with someone over brunch when we were talking about media bias. I was questioned by that person: “what news do you read?” I regret that I gave a sloppy response that sounded like a worse version of: “uh, I read a variety of news …” and then I tried listing a few from memory. I wish I had given a crisper response, and since that day, I have thought about what that person has asked me every day. Yes, literally every day.
In this blog post, I describe my information diet, referring to how I read and consume media to understand current events. Before getting to the actual list of media sources, here are a few comments to clarify my philosophy and which might also preemptively address common objections.
There are too many sources and not enough time to read all the ones I list in detail every day. Instead I have to be strategic. If I find that I haven’t been checking one of these sources for a few days, then I mentally mark it down as a “TODO” to catch up on reading it in the near future. Another reading strategy is that I check news during a limited time range in the evening, after work, so that I am not tempted to browse these aimlessly all day. Otherwise, I would never get “real” world one. I also prefer reading over watching, as I can cover more ground with reading.
I did not list social media style sources such as Reddit and Twitter. I get some news from these, mainly because my field of robotics and AI strangely relies on Twitter for promoting academic content, but I worry that social media is designed to only amplify voices that we believe are correct, with algorithms funneling us towards information to which we are likely to agree, which increases polarization. Furthermore, especially when people can post anonymously, discussions can get highly charged and political. That brings me to the next point…
Whenever possible, look for high quality reporting. A few signals I ask myself in regards to this: (1) Are there high standards for the quality of reporting, and does the writing appear to be in-depth, detailed, empathetic, and persuasive instead of hyper-partisan and filled with ad-hominem attacks? (2) Can I verify the identity of the authors? (3) Who are the experts that get invited to provide commentary? (4) Do articles cite reputable academic work? (5) Are there easily-searchable archives to make sure that whatever people write is written in the permanent record?
I also strive to understand the beliefs behind the people who own and fund the media source. In particular, can the media be critical of the people who fund it, or the government where its headquarters is geographically located? How much dissent is allowed? I am mindful of the difference between an opinion article versus an article that describes something such as a natural disaster. While both have bias, it is more apparent in the former since it’s by definition an opinion.
Regarding bias, in my view every newspaper or media source has some set of bias (some more than others) which reflects the incentives of its organizers. Every person has bias, myself included naturally, which explains why I get suspicious whenever someone or an entity claims to be the sole arbiter of truth and “unbiased” and so on. Thus, when I read a newspaper — say a standard corporate newspaper in the United States — I consume its content while reminding myself that the choices of articles and reporting reflect biases inherent in the paper’s executives or organizers. Similarly, when I read from a source that’s partially or fully in control of a government, I keep a reminder to myself that such media ultimately has to protect the interests of its government.
This does not mean it is a bad idea per se to consume biased media. My main argument is that it is a bad idea to consume a small set of media that convey highly similar beliefs and messages. (I also think it is a bad idea to consume no media, as if the solution to avoiding bias is to avoid the news altogether. How else would I be able to know what goes on in the world?) I am also not saying that reading from a variety of media sources is a “solution” or a “cure” for biased news media; my claim is that it is better than the existing alternative of only limiting oneself to a small set of tightly similar media.
This means that, indeed, I read from media sources whose beliefs I might find to be repugnant or misguided. Maybe it’s just a weird peculiarity of myself, but I like reading stuff that causes me to get into a rage. If anything, seeing how particular sources try to frame arguments has made it a lot easier for me to poke holes through their reasoning. In addition, people I disagree with are sometimes … not entirely wrong. I can strongly disagree with the political beliefs of a writer or broadcaster, but if they write an 800-word essay on some narrow issue, it may very well be that I agree with the contents of that essay. Of course, maybe they are wrong or misleading, in which case it’s helpful to cross-reference with other media sources.
I have lost count of the number of times I have read variations of: “what the media doesn’t want to tell you …” or “the media doesn’t cover this…” or “the media is heavily biased…”. I’m not sure it’s possible to collectively assume that all the sources I list below are heavily biased together. They each have some bias on their own, but can all of them really be collectively biased against one entity, individual, government, or whatever? I don’t believe that’s the case, but let me know if I’m wrong. My guess is that when people say these things, they’re referring to a specific group of people who consume a narrow subset of media sources. (Interestingly, when I read those variations of “the media doesn’t want you to know…” it’s also self-defeating because I have to first read that phrase and its associated content from a media source in the first place.) The bigger issue might be consuming media from too few sources, instead of too many sources.
I don’t pay for most of these sources. Only some of these require subscriptions, and it might be possible to get subscriptions for free as part of a job perk, or to get a discount on the first year of the purchase. I will not pay for a newspaper if it is government-funded, but it’s typically a moot point because those types of newspapers tend to make all their content “freely” accessible (since it would, of course, be in the funding government’s interests to maximize such dissemination). As of July 2023, I now list my (approximate) subscription payments.
Nonetheless, I highly encourage paying and supporting local newspapers. For reference, I used to own a subscription to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette when I lived in Pittsburgh, and before that I read Berkeleyside (and donated on occasion) since I did my PhD at Berkeley. A local newspaper will tend to have the most accurate reporting for local news. Furthermore, if there is concern about bias in national news or if (geo)politics feels depressing, then local news tends to cover less of that.
I also encourage supporting press freedom. I fully recognize that I am fortunate to have the freedom to read all these sources, which I deliberately chose so that they cover a wide range of political and worldwide views. This freedom is one of the greatest and most exhilarating things about my wonderful life today.
Without further ado, here are some of the media sources (there is some logic to the ordering). If a news source is listed here, then I can promise you that while I can’t spend equal amounts of time reading each one, I will make an honest effort to give the source sufficient attention.
- CNBC / MSNBC
- The Guardian
- New York Times [subscriber, about $20/month]
- Los Angeles Times [subscriber, about $5/month]
- Wall Street Journal [subscriber, about $15/month]
- USA Today
- The Washington Post
- Inside Climate News [occasional donor]
- National Review
- The Atlantic
- The Information
- The Points Guy
- Israel Hayom
- Al Jazeera
- The Tehran Times
- The Kyiv Independent [patreon, about $5/month]
- The Moscow Times
- Russia Today
- China Daily
- South China Morning Post
- Taipei Times
- The Korea Herald
- The Hoover Institute
- Cato Institute
- The Council on Foreign Relations / Foreign Affairs [subscriber, about $50/year]
- Amnesty International
I hope this list is useful. This blog post is the answer that I will now give to anyone who asks me about my information diet. As always, I look forward to your criticism. :-)
July 16, 2023: due to my current living situation, I removed the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Berkeleyside, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and I added the Los Angeles Times to my reading list. I also removed ABC because even though I might log into it now and then, it isn’t part of my critical reading mass. I also added The Information since I frequently get email updates from them with a summary of their major news; I will consider formally subscribing to them. Finally, for full transparency, I indicate in the list which news sources I fund or pay to read.