Leaders build cultures and cultures build teams.
The news sucks in large part because the ad-based business model profits from outrage and anxiety. There’s little incentive for that to change but there are ways to build a better stream of information that you control, instead of surrendering to algorithms.
I’ve been working on a sanity-preserving newsfeed for about 7 years, going hard since 2018. This was recorded near the beginning of C19 hysteria. Some things have changed since then and some haven’t. Here it is as a reference:
Bloomberg’s weekday morning shows (about 6-9 AM EST) were market-focused and mostly apolitical. That’s over, at least temporarily. Their web/print is biased and low-value for my needs. There are exceptions which I’ll cover shortly.
Reuters and The Associated Press are leaning into an audience that skews left and I can only assume that they have more left-leaning wire service clients because there are more left-leaning media outlets in general. A lot of wire service stories get reprinted verbatim (with Reuters/AP byline) as a gap-fill/cost-savings measure by newspapers, so it makes sense that they shift toward demand. I still poke around for early breaking stories because they have good reach, globally.
Here’s my current template:
- no cable or network news
- Bloomberg (iOS app) for the market-open, but less and less — will check back after election (technically this is streamed cable news but not one of the big 3)
- Reuters / AP (iOS apps) for breaking news — I’m hoping they, too, will back away from hyperventilating after the election
- Feedly app — I love RSS feeds. Feedly lets me customize and scroll a list of text-only headlines so I’m not swayed by eye-candy images (there’s a magazine-view option if spartan isn’t your thing)
You’ll gather from the more familiar sources that I lean center-right. Areo, Heterodox Academy and Quillette publish a range of center-left / center-right content and frequently veer further off-center. Ars Tech and TechCrunch lean mindlessly left in reporting that doesn’t benefit from partisan hot takes.
Jacobin is far-left/socialist but generally well-written and I like to know what that end of the spectrum is thinking. I rarely if ever find common ground with their authors. Even so, reading long-form that I disagree with in principle is much higher-value watching the clowns on cable.
The Motley Fool is good investor-focused news that serves as one element of a useful market barometer. Wired, like the rest of tech media, leans needlessly left but I read it anyway for an occasional nugget of investigative journalism.
Something I didn’t mention above is Brain Pickings. It’s written by a single, extraordinary woman named Maria Popova whose knowledge of literature, history, philosophy, art and more is unparalleled. She’s been at it since 2006 and I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
- LinkedIn — hard to say where LI is going. They’ve just doubled-down on the Facebook-style interface, adding a “Stories” feature. Content is very safe and mostly marketing fluff or HBR articles. It lacks an edge but I remain curious and hopeful as cultural paranoia wears thin.
- Twitter — I made 5 or 6 attempts at Twitter over an 8-year time span. It only started working for me when I got ruthlessly intentional about every single account I follow.
- Start with a clean account.
- Take no recommendations from Twitter.
- Follow people who interest you, who write – not “journalists.”
- Follow no media, journalists, pundits, or wingnuts.
- Follow a few rational center-left and center-right people — this is how I get the random piece of solid, investigative journalism that lands in the NYT, WSJ, The Atlantic, WaPo, Bloomberg without having to read the 97% trash. Despite blinding editorial bias, some great writers still publish with them.
- Follow some people in your field/areas of interest who write as a means of sharing/clarifying ideas for discussion/feedback.
- Adjust who you follow constantly — drop partisan noisemakers and seek out people who consistently share value. I know this sounds antithetical to Twitter, but these people really do exist and they will lead you to similarly rational humans on the platform.
- Follow +/-100 accounts, not many more — I find that 102-105 is a magic threshold. If I follow any more accounts, it gets instantly noisy. 99-100 is just about perfect. This also serves as a natural limit on “dwell-time” since you’ll be able to see everything new from a small number of accounts in a short period of time.
I have Twitter dialed-in to the point where it’s a source of mostly learning and reasonable discourse. Even in the midst of C19 and a raucous American election season, it’s 90% tempered. Sometimes it gets noisy, and sometimes I’m a noisemaker against my better judgement. I’m always adjusting my follow list and working to listen more than talk. 🤐
- Facebook — I keep an account with 0 friends in case I need to look at a business page. For my needs, the time / value ratio is upside down. Small business owners, people who run community pages or local organizations may find some value in running ads and sharing updates.
- All other social media — same as above.
This is one way to organize a purpose-built newsfeed that serves up information from a variety of sources that will often report on the same stories. Comparing the reporting across sources from the left & right is a great suggestion I got from Wilfred Riley. Following centrists is a path to insights and commentary from thoughtful people (mixed in with some nutcases) on a range of topics, including current events. Avoiding pretty much all cable/network news and most social media makes for a genuinely peaceful yet informed existence.
A word on reading across the aisle: the TV news channels and their print arms sell anxiety and outrage. That’s their business model and it makes us miserable. While I find Jacobin to be at odds with my world view, it’s a window into that end of the ideological spectrum. There’s value in examining both sides without watching the circus on TV.
I have concerns and stressors just like you. Like I wrote about in the very brief Pebble Principle (Habits), I find that taking a persistent and intentional approach to my information intake has a remarkable impact on my ability to manage other areas, like having a 4-year old, where my odds of control plummet.
Thomas Irre is the founder of HK5, LLC, Practical Business Technology and Mental Self-Defense for leaders & teams.