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Tag: news

Reading for value

My buddy Bill shared an article on Google Reader about the demise of Newsweek which linked to this New York Times article (does anyone else find it ironic that one newspaper experiencing financial problems is calling out another publication’s financial problems?):

American newsweeklies were built on original reporting of Large Events, helping readers make sense of a complicated world, but it is a costly endeavor with diminishing returns during an era of commodified and chewed-over news. Both The Economist and The Week were built, rather Web-like, to “borrow” the reporting and then spread analysis on top, thereby making a sundae without having to crank the ice cream maker.

And in this instance, the foreignness of the brands gives the reader an intellectual sheen that once Olympian domestic brands can’t. The Economist and The Week not only make you smarter at cocktail parties by giving you a brief on the week events, but name-checking them will make you sound in the know. Mention Newsweek and people will wonder whether you’ve been going to the dentist a lot lately.

Don’t you love British wit? 🙂

I’m an avid reader of The Economist, and Bill’s shared article got me thinking of why it is that I read The Economist (and many of the other things in my reading list) rather than the numerous other publications out there:

  1. It makes me look smarter. Okay, lets cover the least important (albeit still true) reason first, so I can get it out of the way and focus on the more substantive stuff :-).
  2. It’s analytical. I’m an analytical guy. If there’s one thing consulting has taught me, its that a reasoned conclusion requires both quantitative and qualitative analysis. I’m not satisfied with soundbytes, and I’m not satisfied with superficial reasoning. But, I probably don’t have the time to follow each thread/claim to its origin, nor do I have the time to crunch through all the numbers. Enter The Economist. How many other publications do you know who’ve created an index for measuring purchasing-power parity based on McDonald’s Big Mac? Or run their own quantitative models on the Greek economy to project how the Greek debt situation might look 5 years from now? Or are even in the business of selling macroeconomic analytical data?
  3. It’s opinionated, but still balanced and rigorous. A lot of newspapers strive to be “unbiased.” I think that’s the wrong approach. There are few articles in The Economist which I would say are truly unbiased. And much to its benefit, I might add. When done correctly, having an opinion means doing the necessary research and analysis and thinking. It means carefully considering opposing views. What distinguishes The Economist’s approach is, even if I disagree with the opinion they conclude with, I am given plenty of the background needed to disagree. What newspapers should focus on is not to provide “unbiased” coverage, but balanced (as in carefully presenting all sides of an issue) and rigorous (going beneath the soundbytes).
  4. It’s timely enough. As a weekly, The Economist can’t exactly provide the up-to-the-minute coverage that cable news networks provide (although a lot of that can be remedied if you just check their website). But, frankly, unless you’re a day-trader or a diplomat, I fail to see why you would ever need to know everything on a “as-it-happens” basis. And, if the tradeoff for not getting the news “as-it-happens” is missing out on hours of repeated soundbytes and the very trite cable news network commentary, then I am more than happy to make that tradeoff.
  5. Original content/coverage. Related to the previous point, although it may not be as timely as a cable news network, the Economist also goes places most cable news networks don’t go. It’s the one place I know I can go to get decent analysis of happenings in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia – parts of the world that the cable news networks and major newspapers ignore in favor of endlessly hyping up soundbyte-ridden coverage of more “popular” news items. Also unlike many news sources, they’re also one of the few I can reliably turn to who provide decent science coverage in a way which is respectful of scientists and what they actually found rather than what the newspaper thinks the public is interested in the scientists finding.
  6. It’s witty/doesn’t take itself too seriously. Let’s forget, just for a moment, the witty phrasings/titles that are all over The Economist. Take a look at these covers, and tell me that this is a magazine that takes itself too seriously:

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The interesting thing is, without even thinking about it, the list of news-y blogs/web feeds I follow (right-hand-side column of my Links page) has steadily fallen more in line with the 6 reasons I mentioned above. Of course, the list could always use some pruning/adjusting (and as anyone who’s seen how much I share over Google Reader or on Twitter, they can tell I have a lot that I could cut from my list), but I think this set of 6 criteria is as good as any for helping people to manage their information sources.

What other criteria do people use in finding good sources of information/news to follow?

(Image credit – cover 1) (Image credit – cover 2) (Image credit – cover 3)

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Wiki-power

image A week or two ago, I had a conversation with a couple of coworkers about the use of blogs/social media to gather information about subjects (and hence justify why I spend so many hours on Google Reader). They were fairly skeptical of the ability of blogs to do the same job that the New York Times or the Economist did.

Although we didn’t settle the debate (it takes time to convince the uninitiated), I had three basic responses:

  1. Speed – Services like Twitter are now so fast that there is even some talk about leveraging Twitter as an early warning system/communication system for disasters.
  2. Insight – News agencies don’t always provide insight or analysis. They relay talking points and soundbytes. They wrap it up with fancy “wrapping paper”, but they don’t reliably provide useful insight. Blogs can be a great source of insightful commentary and background — especially for things that are out of scope or out of the reach for many traditional news sources.
  3. Reputation – One issue my coworkers had was that nobody was regulating what bloggers said. “Why should you trust what a blogger has to say?” I replied, “Why should you trust what the New York Times is saying?” The answer to the original dilemma, of course, is to only read blogs which you trust. “But how do you know who to trust?” You don’t. But, while you might not know if you can trust a single random journalist from a single newspaper, thanks to the power of blogging, I can quickly read blog entries by Ezra Klein, Greg Mankiw, Megan McArdle, and Tyler Cowen and not only get four insightful accounts (often with sources for me to get more information) from people I trust more than a random reporter for a newspaper, but compare their accounts and perspectives to formulate my own informed opinion. Not so easy to do with even a newspaper editorial section.

Moreover, its not like the traditional media aren’t using Twitter/Wikipedia/blogs to do their own research: (HT: PhysOrg)

An Irish student’s fake quote on the Wikipedia online encyclopaedia has been used in newspaper obituaries around the world, the Irish Times reported.

Shane Fitzgerald, 22, a final-year student studying sociology and economics at University College Dublin, told the newspaper he placed the quote on the website as an experiment when doing research on globalisation.

Fitzgerald told the newspaper he picked Wikipedia because it was something a lot of journalists look at and it can be edited by anyone.

“I didn’t expect it to go that far. I expected it to be in blogs and sites, but on mainstream quality papers? I was very surprised about,” he said.

(Image Credit)

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