Too often, discussions of substantial issues are watered down with unrestrained passions and egotism. In our rush to be heard, often with the best of intentions, we shout loud and hope that people will listen, filling the room with noise. Too much noise, and the quieter voices with powerful ideas find themselves ignored.
As I sat through syllabus day in my political communication class, I listened to the professor’s ice breaker of choice, which was: “what do you like/dislike about politics?” Sentiments expressed by my peers included, “I dislike how little listening politicians seem to do,” or “I dislike when everyone is shouting and nobody is listening.”
As students and citizens, we have a responsibility to inform ourselves about what is going on in the world. To fulfill our obligation, we must find a way to filter the noise and hear as many good opinions as we can. Learning what needs to be known is neither easy nor popular. In fact the task seems so daunting, so impossible, we give up. Rather than invest time in solving problems by better understanding them, that time is spent on vapid and superficial fluff like “10 reasons being a ’90s kid is the best.”
The process of becoming trapped traversing the same websites with the same perspectives and the same opinions is called the filter bubble. Website recommendation engines like the one that governs Facebook’s News Feed use various algorithms that often prevent users from seeing certain aspects of the world, feeding users what they typically consume, rather than what is new and uncomfortable.
The consequence of the filter bubble leads to a polarized society, in which the conversation becomes a false dichotomy. You are either a liberal or a conservative. You are pro or anti. The distinctions between different liberals or conservatives are brushed off with terms that mean very little by themselves, terms like “moderate.”
Popping this filter bubble can be done by taking an active role in the information you consume. Don’t accept the status quo of “established” information. It’s 2014, and the internet has changed the way content is distributed. I have found a number of sites that offer substantial content and provide an important perspective, and these sites offer some of the best arguments (there are more than one), and filter out the lesser options.
Disclaimer: don’t use only this list! As important as knowing good sites to travel through is, knowing how to identify good sites is equally as important. My site list is derived from years of listening to professors, professionals and peers. These sites favor analysis and high-quality information for those who want to learn as much as possible about the subject matter. If you disagree or have a better suggestion, voice your opinion on Collegian.com. And, yes, that is self-promotion (another sign of things to come in the real world).
Check out Grantland. A subsidiary of ESPN, with accomplished Editor-in-Chief Bill Simmons and a stable of talented writers, Grantland produces long-form articles filled with insightful analysis, helpful diagrams, quirky jokes, gifs and more. In the world of sports journalism, if ESPN is a potato chip, Grantland is filet mignon. In addition, the website also has a pop culture vein, although sports remains the site’s strongest area. Of course there are other options, like YahooSports, BleacherReport, SportsIllustrated, SBNation, FoxSports, ThePostGame, Deadspin and many others, but Grantland tops my sports category.
This one gets a bit more complicated. I think the one point to always keep in mind is that being respectful of other opinions makes the discussion better. So if your goal is to understand the issues, AVOID TELEVISION NEWS OUTLETS, like CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc. These forums are rife with sensationalism. Because politics is an incredibly complex topic, your best bet is aggregate sites that bring you the latest from dozens of places, and those that talk about policy. RealClearPolitics is one site with an abundance of options to learn about issues. Ballotopedia is a site useful for learning about candidates, particularly local ones you won’t hear much about otherwise. Polurls is a site that parses political news based on the political leaning of the publication; left, center, or right. There are many more; too many for me to fit in this article.
I learned something about news when I started at the Collegian. Twitter can be useful. While I respect cat videos, I prefer to turn my feed into news instead. I follow as many informative outlets as possible, then follow the links they post to articles that strike my interest. Following the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are important, but there is also the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times and many other classic publications. My personal favorite, The Economist, gives free editors’ picks for most people to read, and charges for the remainder of its content.
Two important sites to check out are the V’s: Vox and Vice. These two sites are changing the way news is reported online. Vox has a tile format that is easy to navigate and gives the information as clearly and fairly as possible. Vice has journalists who have a surprising knack for getting stories few others have access to, like Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea, or events in Syria. For more options in news, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting has a list of their own on the buffet of sites providing good content.
If you’re reading this, you just finished reading 1,000 words. You aren’t supposed to have made it this far. Show the world that being young doesn’t mean you’ve got the attention span of flea. Be the informed citizen you are fully capable of being.
Collegian Editorial Editor Zack Burley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @zackburley.