Keeping Up with Current Events

I have always admired the well-informed. Their ability to speak on complex topics, to make thought-provoking points about things of which I know little, impresses me. This happened again a few months ago, with a retired Army Colonel whose knowledge of the American Revolution, the geopolitical landscape, and war floored me. I absorbed all I could from him. He also made me realize that I needed to do a much better job of educating myself and keeping up with current events. I have worked hard to do that over the last three months. Today I want to talk about my strategy for keeping up with world affairs. The self-education side of this coin warrants its own article, so I will save that for later.

For most of my life, I saw no reason to keep up with current events. In short, they seldom affected me, and even if they had, I could have done nothing about them. I saw no reason to worry about the inevitable, or expend energy trying to change things outside my control. While that still applies today, I want to take a minute to highlight the reasons I changed my mind on current events. Many of my peers feel the way I used to, so maybe this will convince them to pay more attention.

My Change of Heart #

Academia values smart people; the real world values intelligence. I explained the difference the other day. Outside college, rehashing an algorithm on Stack Overflow will not cut it. Success means bringing value to the table, and doing that means learning to navigate a complex environment with many moving parts and full of powerful actors. This requires a thorough understanding of the world, which one gains by studying its affairs through the lens of current events. Depth of knowledge got me to the beginning of my career, and breadth will keep me from staying there.

Current events can mean more than politics, though. Given my background, my definition includes new projects and services. As a writer, it also allows for the types of articles bloggers post for small audiences — like I do here. This redefinition helped me find the apps that became key parts of my workflow, and inspired some projects of my own. It also highlighted the work of small-time writers, who often make the best content. Creators flood the Internet with new content every day; paying attention to them, too, helped me find some real gems. This simple realization, and the huge impact it had, should make current events — no matter how you define them — much more interesting.

I also changed my mind because I realized I could learn from the smartest minds in any field, and ignore all others. I refuse to spend my time on “human interest stories” or most of the other topics news networks use to fill time. These have no real value. Instead, I look to smart people for insights into a complex world, that will increase the depth and breath of my knowledge. Media outlets have lowered the level of public discourse in this country, but nothing says you must use even one of them. I worked hard over the last three months to make a list of high-quality and unbiased news sources, to help me become a more intelligent person. Those sites do exist, despite vast evidence to the contrary.

So there you have it. I saw a need to go from smart to intelligent. The process I chose to get there has the added bonus of highlighting awesome projects and unique perspectives. Focusing on the brightest minds makes this a worthwhile pursuit. I encourage the apathetic amongst you to consider that. Maybe you will change your mind. Either way, I owe you all a list.

My Morning Reads #

I check the same sites every morning. Most days, I take about half an hour to go through this list. Sometimes I spend hours going down a long rabbit hole, though, and then more time catching up on the things I missed. I found an interesting piece on China a few weeks ago, for example, read nine related articles that afternoon, and over fifty others the rest of the day. I counted. Most of the time, though, this search yields a handful of pieces, one or two of which find their way here, and the rest of which I read for my own edification. I break these sites up by genre below, along with a brief note on each.

Tech News #

Given my background, I like to watch the tech space. I have found that these three sites do a great job of finding the best content, the hottest stories, and the coolest projects from around the Internet. They do not miss much.

Information Security #

I have to keep up with emerging cyber threats for my job. Although I would like to round this area out with another source, I have yet to find anything that matches the quality and depth these first two bring to the table.

Long form writing #

Although you will find neither of these on any list of sites for great long form writing, I have found that the best of those pieces tend to appear here. Most of the good long form articles I ended up reading, that I could also find on sites like Longform and Longreads, also showed up on Digg and The Morning News.

Politics #

I had the hardest time finding good political commentary. Fox News and CNN have a reputation for extreme bias, and most other major outlets pride themselves on falling just short of those extremes. This website gives me the facts, and lets me see perspectives on both sides of the aisle.

Miscellaneous #

These sites don’t belong to any one of the categories above, but I have found them all worthwhile.

News Aggregators #

I use one news aggregator. Popurls draws from many of the sites above, so I seldom find new things here, but it does a good job of showing me articles I might have missed or glossed over. If I see a post here that I saw on another site, that I chose not to read earlier, I will give it a second look. It must have gotten popular for a good reason, after all. Popurls also draws from a few sources I do not follow, strips out all but the hottest pieces, and presents them in a tidy package. I find value in this, too. As I refine the list of sites I visit every morning, I will get to the point where I no longer need this one.

The Full List #

To make your life a little easier, I list the sites I read to keep up with current events below. On new machines, I copy this list into a folder I can open in the morning before work.

Newsletters #

I take great care in choosing the last piece in my current events collection strategy. Newsletters command much more time and attention than a simple website, and I do not believe in wasting either. The first newsletter that makes that cut, the Defense News Early Bird Brief, covers news on the military-industrial complex and the surveillance apparatus. If you work in one of these spaces, I suggest you check it out.

The second, BIG by Mathew Stoller, tackles “the politics of monopoly”. Mat’s historical insight and shrewd analysis makes these newsletters interesting reads, every time. As for the third, Wall Street Breakfast, this one helps me stay up to date with not only financial news, but — to my surprise — many other sectors as well. The writers over at Seeking Alpha do great work.

I go back and forth on Ben Thompson’s weekly newsletter, but I have found a great deal of value in it as of late, and so I decided to include it here. Look to him for sharp technical and political analysis, even if that political commentary sometimes skews hard to one side.

These sites help me educate myself, and help me keep up with current events — but the onus remains on you to work through this list every day and with intent to learn. If not, you might as well go back to Facebook.