Maybe don’t use social media to keep up with the news today
I graduated cum laude with a BA Mass Communications degree in 2019, and the entire time I was in college, learning about what good journalism is and what bad writing looks like, I was also just reading an average of about one article a month.
Disregarding everything I had to read for class, I was not reading anything at all.
I used to read a lot. In high school, I started getting really into newspapers despite having the entire internet at my disposal, or perhaps, due to having the entire internet at my disposal.
It was information overload, going through the internet everyday to read about anything and everything there is in the world. I was in no position to curate my own consumption. The reason I needed to read in the first place was because I needed to know what was supposed to matter.
The newspaper tells you exactly that. They put it in big bold letters at the very start of the page. These are the headlines. These are the things you need to know now and you need to act upon urgently.
In school, they made us ask questions like “But who’s to say?” and “Why should we trust them?” and “What about the stories that didn’t make the headlines?”
I slowly stopped reading the newspaper, in part because all the other things they made us read in college took up all of my time, but also because I felt I knew better already. I didn’t need the headlines anymore. I knew what I wanted to know and what I had to know, and I sought them out myself through the internet.
In the end, I ended up reading nothing.
I was an active social media user until a year ago, and though my intention was to use it to stay updated on underreported stories and to gain more in-depth information about popular stories, I ended up… well, not doing that.
What I actually did was I scrolled through scattered headlines in my feed, shared the ones I agreed with, bookmarked them to read later, and then… never open them ever again. I did actually click and read through some of them, but only those that got me angry enough, or intrigued enough. So, basically, clickbaits.
I couldn’t have ever known, back when I was 6 years old and waiting for our dial-up connection to load, pixel by agonizing pixel, the dress-up game that I wanted to play on Barbie.com that I would rely on the very same technology (sort of) to learn about, well, everything today.
Whether we like it or not, the internet dominates information now, and we depend on it a lot, some even exclusively on it, to gain information. When in the not-so-long-ago past, that was the role of traditional mass media.
Now, the lines are all blurred together. Mass media is in the internet now too, but so is everyone else.
This is most true in the case of social media. I did intend to use it to stay updated with the news, but the news stood no chance against a topless photo of my crush, or a cute video of someone’s cat, or an advertisement for a tweed jacket that I have been looking for forever!
Social media makes you feel like you have power over what you will and will not see because you’re technically the one clicking the follow and subscribe button but social media was created for something, and it’s something other than your own interests. Social media was designed to sustain user engagement for as long as possible. Everything else, every other feature and every other purpose that it serves, is only secondary to this primary function.
That is why, despite my best interests, I never actually achieved what I initially set out to do with the internet, which is to use it as a resource for gaining valuable and meaningful information. I realized that if I wanted to do that, I have to do my own curation, one that fits my needs, my interests, and, most importantly, my severely diminished attention span (thank you, social media), so that’s what I set out to do this time around.
Here’s my advice. Maybe don’t use social media to keep up with the news today. Here are some other things you can do instead:
Subscribe to newsletters
Newsletters are just like newspapers, but environmentally friendly. Everyday, or every week, instead of in your mailbox, you get an email in your inbox with the latest headlines and some in-depth analysis of the most popular stories.
I subscribed to both mainstream as well as alternative news outlets. The important thing is that you trust what these outlets have to say, and by subscribing to more than one, the mainstream news stories would become triangulated.
There’s also something about opening the email that distinguishes the experience from simply coming across news stories on your social media feed. When you open that email newsletter, you’re more or less prepared for what’s coming. Your brain is expecting to see the news; which may or may not be ugly (you know it often is), but it’s not as surprising as it is in social media, where the primary cause of your being there isn’t really to read the news, but to catch up with family and friends.
When I came across news stories on social media, even though I knew I followed this news outlet specifically to get the news on my feed, when I do get updates, I would find myself irritated, as if I was interrupted while at dinner with my lover. Like someone had shot somebody outside of the restaurant where my partner and I had been dining. Was I supposed to just sit there and proceed to sip on my wine?
There’s the matter of viral stories. They’ve always been tricky, but especially so now in the age of social media. It tends to cloud everything else around us — eclipses the news cycle. We have to remember that there are more things happening around the world than what’s trending. That’s what news outlets were built for. They have editorial boards and beats so we stay updated on what’s going on around us in a balanced way.
Most of them have email newsletters. Here are the ones I trust:
International & US Outlets
- The Guardian — DAILY OR WEEKLY. The Guardian has a lot of newsletters to choose from depending on how often you’d like to get updated and what kind of updates you’d like to get. I’m subscribed to their weekly The Long Read newsletter, which features “award-winning long reads bring the biggest ideas and the arguments that matter.”
- The New York Times — DAILY OR WEEKLY. The NYT has a lot of newsletters to choose from, depending on how often you’d like to get updated and what kind of updates you’d like to get. I’m subscribed to their daily The Morning newsletter, which lets me “make sense of the day’s news and ideas.”
- Rest of the World — WEEKLY. This outlet is a young outlet, but I gave it a shot because one of my favorite writers from WIRED, Louise Matsakis, joined them recently. Of course, she’d be drawn to this place. According to their website, it’s a “global nonprofit publication covering the impact of technology beyond the Western bubble.” Well, they don’t disappoint!
- Asia Undercovered — WEEKLY. “In-depth round-ups and analysis of the news, events, trends, and people changing Asia, but not getting enough attention in US media.”
- Nikkei Asian Review — DAILY OR WEEKLY. Nikkei Asia has several newsletters to choose from, depending on how frequently you want your updates and what kinds of updates you want to have. I’m subscribed to their Your Week in Asia newsletter for “a briefing of the most important business, economic and political events happening across Asia that week.”
My Local Outlets (Philippines)
- Rappler (National) — DAILY. Rappler’s The Daily WRap newsletter is my morning briefing of the top news stories in the country.
HOT TIP: You can use newsletter readers like Meco to manage your newsletters.
One final thing before we move on from this topic: you can always unsubscribe from any of these if you are feeling too overwhelmed. Remember, the goal is to stay updated with the news, not to be paralyzed by it. If you find yourself doom-scrolling these newsletters as you would in social media, you may need to reconfigure your email preferences. Or…
Subscribe to a news podcast
Listen, you don’t have to read if you don’t want to. A lot of us are just too busy to sit down and read article upon article of news which, most of the time, is upsetting anyway, and that’s exactly why we’ve relegated our news consumption to our social media feeds.
Fear not, because print isn’t the only traditional medium that has adapted into the internet. The folks from the radio are here now, too, and it’s just become more accessible and more curatable than ever. Just like the old days, you can put the news on in the background while you’re running errands and doing chores. I personally like to listen in while on my morning run. It really gives you the adrenaline to push forward.
If I may humbly present my list of favorite podcasts from where I get my news when I’m busy or just not feeling like reading…
- The Listening Post from Al Jazeera — “A weekly programme that examines and dissects the world’s media, how they operate and the stories they cover.”
- The Daily from the New York Times — “Twenty minutes a day, five days a week, hosted by Michael Barbaro and powered by New York Times journalism.”
- ANC Podcast — Daily news updates from the ABS-CBN News Channel in the Philippines “for breaking news, wall-to-wall live news coverage and analyses with context.”
Finally, I’d like to recommend Curio, which is an app that reads news stories (very well) for me. There’s a number of outlets available, and you can also queue stories to listen for later. It’s pretty neat!
When I was in school, I had a journalism teacher that accused and berated us for not catching up with the news anymore. We all got super offended, because excuse me yes, we did!
Except… not really, no, we didn’t. We had social media accounts, and sometimes, while we’re scrolling down our feeds, a trending news article would pass by, and then we’d read it, maybe, or maybe not, and then we’d continue on scrolling.
Yeah, I don’t know who needs to hear this but that’s not “catching up with the news.”
Social media is a good resource. It’s the most accessible resource, and that’s why it’s extremely valuable, but in this case, it’s just not the best place to start.
Even my media theory professor, a woman with a PhD in media studies, fell victim to the perils of taking news from social media. I was pleasantly surprised when she messaged me. She asked me how I was, told me to stay safe and vigilant in these unpredictable times, and then, she linked a video about how COVID was “just a flu” and that we are all just being “brainwashed by globalists.” Yeah. I know.
In conclusion, your honor, for the love of God, please get your news somewhere else.