Staying Informed: A News-Reading Strategy for Millennials

"Flipboard" by Johan Larsson, Licensed under CC BY 2.0
Flipboard” by Johan Larsson, Licensed under CC BY 2.0

A few months ago I wrote about the one good reason to read the news. With tragic news reaching us every day from across the globe, it remains as important as ever to commit to caring about what’s going on in the world – but knowing how to do that isn’t necessarily straight-forward. As a follow-up to my last post, I want to explore what it means to be a responsible news consumer and actively engaged with current events. I write this because my knowledge of world events is lacking (despite spending a large amount of my time online) and I am trying to navigate the overwhelming volume of news available to me.


Everyone, across all age groups, is reading daily newspapers less than they were 10 years ago. Amongst 18-24 year olds, only 20% read a daily newspaper yesterday, and 25-34 year olds hardly more, at 21%. The source of people’s news is changing.

The format of news has changed as well. News is less tied to a particular time now (e.g. the morning paper, or the 6 o’clock news). In university, I remember learning about the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, and how revolutionary it was in 1980 to have news broadcast on air by CNN within hours of its occurrence. But the 24-hour news cycle has taken on an entirely different meaning since the Internet. Updates are instantaneous, breaking news is reported within seconds, and accuracy is secondary to immediacy. Under pressure to generate news every hour, sites will produce 10+ pieces with slightly different angles on the exact same story, repackaging old information, rather than offering something new.

There’s also the odd juxtaposition of important breaking news with tabloid-level link bait, put there to keep you clicking around the site to keep ad revenue up, and the newspaper alive. As entertaining as the BBC’s most-read stories of the day might be (‘Report details Palin family brawl’ and ‘Students urged to urinate in shower’ being two recent examples), reading them takes time and energy that might have been better funnelled into the same site’s in-depth coverage of the crisis in the Middle East.

In this confusing world where we are simultaneously over-exposed to and under-educated on world events, being well-informed takes determination. Using the news to educate yourself is hard work. But it doesn’t have to be impossible; it just requires more purposefulness than sitting down with the morning paper did 30 years ago.

Without further ado, here is the process I’m walking through as a millennial (whose heart and head say to read the news, but whose lifestyle and attention span sometimes get in the way) to become a responsible news consumer.

Develop habits

One of the best ways to consume the news in a productive way is to purposefully develop the habit of getting it at regular intervals when we have time, energy, and the attention-span to digest it.

If we consume the news in a haphazard as-and-when fashion (the way it comes to us via the Internet), we can end up (1) catering to our short attention spans by focusing on superficial and unimportant stories, (2) reading the news when we should be doing other things, or (3) not giving ourselves enough time to understand or engage with what we’re reading.

Though we no longer have news in the same time-boxed way we used to, we can still limit our news consumption to certain times in our schedule. Rather than trying to keep pace with the breakneck speed of 24-hour news, we can take advantage of our easy access to the news by scheduling it into our lives.

A 30 minute commute is the perfect length of time to listen to an episode of BBC World Service’s Global News, which gives a broad overview of world happenings in the last 24 hours. Fifteen minutes of a lunch break could be enough time to skim the New York Times app and read one or two stories. I’ve personally found that Saturday mornings are a great time to fill in my news-reading gaps from the week, and do so at a more leisurely pace.

Regardless of exactly when and how you consume the news, the basic principle is to make a habit of it. This both helps put news consumption within healthy boundaries (so you aren’t feeling constantly behind on the overload of news coming out at any given moment), and gives you time to meaningfully engage with what you’re reading.

Limit your sources

If the overload of news stories wasn’t enough to deal with, having the option to read slightly different versions from umpteen news sites is enough to make anyone want to pull their hair out. While it’s good to read widely to get a well-rounded perspective, it’s helpful (for sanity’s sake) to curate a small number of trusted publications and largely stick to those.

Find sources that will help you stay informed on global news, local news, and also offer in-depth reporting that allows you to delve a bit deeper on certain topics. Find highly-respected sources, but also look for writing you will actually read and engage with (lofty reading ambitions are no good if we never actually get around to reading).

Develop your reading schedule around 3-5 curated sources. Perhaps your morning commute is a general overview with BBC Global News, then you skim your local newspaper and read a piece from The Guardian during your lunch break, reserving Saturday mornings for deeper news analysis from The Economist. To some, this schedule might sound a bit intense, but if you used it to replace the mindless BBC skimming at work, or the time spent getting distracted by the Life & Style pages on the Huffington Post, you might end up actually saving time, and being more informed.

Invest

As a generation raised on the Internet, many of us are unwilling to consider paying for our news. But the truth is that sometimes quality news reporting is worth paying for. Not only that, but sometimes it’s worth the price simply to put good quality journalism within easy reach. When it’s already a challenge (as it is for me) to actually read the news regularly, any barriers (like pay walls) can be enough excuse to simply give up and find something easier to read (and normally less useful). The price is worth paying just to keep ourselves committed to forming good habits.

And the price isn’t necessarily extortionate. A full subscription to the New York Times, for instance, is £10 a month. The Economist (print + online) will cost you £1 a week. Even if these prices are too high for your personal budget, there are options for gaining full access for free through your library (I can get The Economist on my phone free this way).

Pay for your news shouldn’t be considered just a luxury, either. The truth is that the reason we’re seeing annoying link-bait next to real news is because that is the level to which news sites must stoop to stay afloat. Paying for the news, though alien to many of us, is an investment in the type of journalism we want to keep reading. That doesn’t mean that every free site is worthless (one of the best news innovations of our time has been the increase in citizen reporting via blogs and Twitter, after all), but if being informed people is a value we hold, maybe we need to start considering putting our money where our mouth is.


If you’re a millennial and would like to share your personal news-reading strategy, I’d love to hear about it. Please share.

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Read This Week

I don’t feel as though I’ve read that many inspiring articles this week – maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough! In lieu of sharing links to my favourite short pieces, I thought I’d share the books I’ve been enjoying recently – which I *have* been reading this week.

Made For More – by Hannah Anderson

I’m reading this book with a friend, and couldn’t recommend it more. This book addresses women on the topic of finding their true identity while piercing straight past descriptions of roles and stereotypes. The result is a truly inspiring vision for what it means to be a human being made in God’s image. For a much better review of this book, I recommend this one by Lore Ferguson.

What’s Best Next – by Matt Perman

One of the topics that comes up often in our house is that of productivity. It’s the ever-present struggle throughout our days and our weeks. This book by Matt Perman gives permission for Christians in particular to really engage in deep thinking about what it means to be productive, but with a thoroughly Biblical foundation, which gives it an extra layer of meaning.

Jeeves & the Feudal Spirit  – by P.G. Wodehouse

This series of books is quickly becoming one of my favourites – particularly for bedtime reading. They’re punchy and hilarious, but also leave me feeling truly impressed by Wodehouse’s mastery of storytelling and the English language. If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend it (along with the fantastic screen interpretation by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie)

On writing as something enjoyable

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(c) Matryosha on Flickr

I used to keep a diary when I was a kid, documenting the happenings of everyday life, interspersed with frequent emotional vents about how I felt about it all, and I usually wrote as though I was writing to a person. I didn’t say ‘Dear Diary’ necessarily, but that was the unspoken idea. More often than not, my introductions to entries were an apology to my inanimate diary (but also, to my future self who apparently was incredibly judgemental) for not having written in so long.

I’m tempted to begin this post the same way.

It’s been more than a month since being able to sit down and write, due to moving and being generally exhausted. Today is the first Friday I’ve had in a long time where I’ve had space to sit down and breathe, write in my ‘grown up journal’ (which is basically no different than the one above, except my handwriting is worse) and think about what I’d like to share on the blog.

I’d like to get back into the full swing of writing, so I’ve taken time to brainstorm and I’m excited about what I’m planning. At the same time, though, I’m completely intimidated. What intimidates me is figuring out how to find the time to write, and write as often as I’d like to, without writing becoming an ominous “to-do” that stands between me and fun.

I have to frequently remind myself that writing is a joy and a privilege in and of itself; it’s something that I love to do, not something that I have to get over with. It feels downright luxurious to look at my day and think here’s the time that I’m going to spend just writing. But this mindset is something I have to remind myself of. For whatever reason, it doesn’t come naturally.

The ‘work before play’ mantra that I’ve always lived by has trained me to think of anything worthwhile and profitable and productive (aka, work) as something that I have to do before I can have fun – not something that can be fun and joyful and fulfilling in itself.

I’m working to correct this mantra in my own life – to see work and play as equally profitable sides of the same coin, with equal potential for enjoyment. Even though work (be that my day job, or writing) is often hard, hard isn’t antithetical to fun.

Seeing life slightly more holistically takes the intimidation out of something like writing. Yes it will be hard, and yes I will probably write and re-write and scratch things out and beat my head against the wall trying to figure out how to communicate my thoughts; but it will also be relaxing, a refreshing outlet for all the thoughts I spill over with and normally wear my husband’s ears out with, and rewarding to complete.

I also may need reminding of this next week.

Read this week

Dear readers, it’s been a long time! Since August I’ve managed to move house and actually get settled in, which has been brilliant, but exhausting. I’m glad to see life slowing down a tad though, and I look forward to getting back into the stride of blogging.

While I haven’t been writing much over the last few weeks, I have, however, been reading. Here are some of my favourite reads lately:

You Don’t Have To Make Your Bed to Write a Book – Storyline Blog

This blog post is one of the reasons I’m sitting down writing now instead of tidying up the pile of plates in my kitchen. While I subscribe to the idea that sometimes the environment around you can add un-needed ‘psychic weight’ that can distract you when you’re trying to work, I also know that cleaning up that environment is all-too-often my excuse for not doing more important things, like writing.

A Kingdom Still Whole, but Far From United – New York Times

The Scottish independence referendum was big news here in the UK a few weeks ago. Even though the fervour has died down somewhat, there are still many questions remaining as to exactly what the referendum meant for future Scottish autonomy and – interestingly – English autonomy and self-rule.

The Real Heroes are Dead – The New Yorker

This was something I read on the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 bombings, but it was written in 2002. The subtitle to this piece is ‘A Love Story’, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a sad, but triumphant look at the life of a man who gained the media spotlight for being in the second tower, but which celebrates the way that his life lead up to that moment.

Missing Children – World Magazine

This is an incredibly helpful, and poignant look at the reality of miscarriage and infertility. Our church culture that celebrates children, parenthood and families often leaves couples who are struggling to have children by the wayside, and can unintentionally further marginalise them in their pain. As a Christian, I want to see the value we place on human life carried through to the way we walk with families who are missing children.

Read this week

One of my constant struggles when it comes to blogging is the way that I find it much easier to consume good content than create it. I can churn through articles (or interesting Twitter feeds) so easily, while creating content gets neglected.

In an effort to turn my content consumption into engagement and creation, I thought I’d share a few reads that I found interesting recently.

The Pleasure of Reading to Impress Yourself – The New Yorker (h/t Blythe)

I’ve always felt an internal tug-of-war when it comes to which books to choose to read. On the one hand, I feel compelled to read big impressive books solely because they’re big and impressive, and on the other hand I feel like your one motivation to read a book should be because you’ll enjoy it. This article bridged that divide beautifully, and gave me fresh inspiration to read tough books for the joy of impressing myself.

A Better Way of Introducing Yourself at Parties – Storyline Blog

This piece hits close to home for me, as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about how they are (or whether they are) more than the sum total of what they do at work. I’d only add that, whether or not we change the way we introduce people at parties, we should change the way we think about who they really are and what they mean to us.

Coffee’s Slow Dance – New York Times

Even though reading articles like this make me feel slightly pretentious, I do it anyway – ’cause I love coffee. I particularly liked this article because it taught me something new. Until reading it I had no idea about the amazing coffee culture that exists in Japan, and the way it’s beginning to influence coffee culture in the west.

The one good reason to read the news

by m01229
by m01229

For a long time I have embraced the idea that reading the news and keeping up with current events is inherently virtuous. Beyond virtuous, it’s practically a citizenship responsibility – to stay informed; to ensure that humanity doesn’t collectively repeat itself every 100 years.

I know all the reasons why everyone should stay abreast of world happenings: to stay informed on issues that affect your everyday life, to understand how to vote or take action regarding current events, to be able to carry on an intelligent conversation on important issues, and to gain a broader view of the world.

But here’s the problem: despite my grandiose ideals about the value of news consumption, I’ve spent most of my life failing to actually live up to them. I’ve found myself among the growing percentage of young people reluctantly reporting that they get most of their news from Facebook or Twitter, if they’re getting any news information at all. News is overwhelming, and it’s hard work to go beyond consumption to real understanding.

Maybe I’m just lazy. Maybe I don’t really understand just what it means to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself. Maybe I’m apathetic.

Or maybe all my reasons for keeping up with the news fall short of actually giving me a really good reason.

The problem with all my reasons for reading the news is that, while they sound noble, they fall apart without one key ingredient. Without this ingredient, these reasons offer me an ‘out’ – a way of shirking my duty, and feeling justified.

Wanting to stay informed on issues that affect my everyday life can quickly justify not reading up on anything that goes beyond the borders of my own little world (be that my neighbourhood, city, or country).  Reading the news so that I can take action can justify ignoring problems about which I feel powerless. Fear of being embarrassed if I can’t carry on an intelligent conversation about current events fades fairly quickly, and isn’t a motivator for long-term behaviour.

I want to clarify that I don’t think any of these ‘outs’ are justified – but I would argue that they make sense without the key ingredient – the one good reason. The reason I’m talking about doesn’t offer us any ‘outs’ or chances to explain away our responsibility. And this reason underpins all other virtues of reading the news.

What’s the one good reason to read the news? Simply: so that you care.

When more than 1,000 human beings die in Gaza, we should care. When a deadly virus ravages West Africa, we should care. When planes crash and hundreds of families lose brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers, we should care. When a single civilian is killed by a drone, we should care. When little girls are kidnapped in Nigeria, we should care. When humanity anywhere is suffering – we should care.

Caring is an end unto itself. If people are hurting, then I should care – we should care. If there is injustice in the world, we should care.*

But we’ve taught ourselves not to care unless we can act on it. If I can’t fix the problem, why should I even know? Why let my heart be burdened day after day when there isn’t anything I can do to help? Maybe it’s better just to turn a blind eye. If you can’t do anything – don’t bother caring.

This thinking has dangerous implications: we won’t consider it worth our time to care unless we think we can do something. This gives powerful people even more impetus to disempower us, because disempowered people won’t challenge them. We also become motivated to relinquish what ability we do have to act. Caring is hard – so we get comfortable feeling powerless so that we don’t have to care.

A beautiful thing happens when we do care, though.

We cling to the inherent value of human life and dignity by saying that they are worth caring for, celebrating, and weeping over, even if those lives are thousands of miles away, belonging to people we’ve never met. We fight for our ability to act (even if we can’t solve all the world’s problems), our intellectual discussions gain a deeper meaning, and we become motivated to know what’s going on beyond our personal bubble.

It’s a courageous thing to decide to care, because when you do, there are no easy ‘outs’.  But let’s choose the courageous option lest we experience its alternative: a world where atrocities can be committed anywhere – be it the neighbouring street, or the neighbouring continent – only to be met by blind eyes and shrugged shoulders.

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*I’d argue this also extends to news about government policy, and other more mundane news items that are less explicitly linked to the welfare of humankind. These are often the most important things to keep abreast of, because they’re easier to ignore, but will inevitably have implications for the well-being of real people.

Millennials: A generation paralysed by our own potential

Image Credit: Paul Kitchener
Image Credit: Paul Kitchener

The millennial generation (comprised of those aged roughly 22-30, who coined the phrase ‘quarter-life crisis’) is a complex one.

There are many challenges this generation faces that are entirely unique, and many that are simply challenges each generation has faced, just re-packaged and re-branded. Of the challenges unique to millennials, however, one is rather deceptive: our potential.

Millennials growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s were the beneficiaries of a vast amount of opportunity – from the subjects they were taught at school, to extra-curricular activities and university options. Most of the people I know (within my generation) excelled in more than one subject in school (if not all of them), and participated in sports, music, theatre and/or art. We are a generation raised under the mantra ‘be anything you want to be’, and we were certainly given many opportunities to explore all that mantra entailed.

You would think that this would result in well-rounded, ambitious, confident people who can launch themselves into the future with a fair amount of self-assurance. But instead, many of us are hesitantly teetering on the edge of the future, not quite sure what to do. We’re indecisive and self-conscious. Why?

My theory is that we as a generation find ourselves paralysed by our own potential. We have entered adulthood with a huge collection of skills, passions, qualifications and ambitions, but don’t know where to go from here.

If you can be anything, you can be anything

The only problem with being told that you can be anything you want to be when you grow up is exactly that – you can be anything when you grow up. This leaves us staring down the barrel of the question: ‘What do I want to do with my life?’

When you have graduated with a solid GPA across most of your subjects, excelled in multiple extra-curriculars, and completed university in a similar way, you come out the other side having invested a huge amount of time into your arsenal of skills and passions. So the question ‘but what do you want to do?’ feels more like being asked ‘which of these hard-earned skills will you keep, while discarding the rest?’ Our schooling and upbringing equipped us with the ability to do whatever we wanted, but it didn’t necessarily explain what to do with that ability.

Lest we be remembered as the generation that collectively looks a gift horse in the mouth, we should realise that being asked what we want to do with our lives is a huge privilege. Many — from previous generations, to fellow millennials in other parts of the world — have not enjoyed the privilege of facing this question.

Part of our hesitancy, however, may come from realising just what a privilege it is to be given the chance to answer that question – to decide what we want our future to look like based on what we want to do, rather than primarily on what we must do to survive.

The need to be a jack-of-all-trades

Deciding what to do with our lives isn’t as simple as taking stock of our skills and passions and pairing them with a job we think will meet our needs. Today, careers are becoming less linear and more horizontal. There’s less ladder-climbing and more hopping around and entrepreneurship. The beginnings of a good career path today bank on well-roundedness, personal initiative, and an ability to learn new things. This can leave us feeling as though we need to hedge our bets. We fear relentlessly pursuing one particular area of skill/passion, lest we let slide other skills that could come in handy in the near future.

Lots of millennials don’t even get the chance to worry about linear or horizontal career paths – they are simply struggling to find a job to begin with. Finding time to think and plan long-term while job-hunting and/or working a dead-end job is difficult. When you aren’t sure what your next move will be, it’s tough to know how to focus your energies, and which skills are the most important to keep developing.

The ‘solution’

As a millennial who is writing out of her own experiences and thought processes, I don’t really have a solution – otherwise I’d be more than happy to share it. Instead, here are a few thoughts that I’ve found helpful during this process:

Stop thinking you’re done learning

One way to stop being afraid that you’ll waste the learning you’ve worked so hard for is to realise you’ve only just begun to learn – it doesn’t stop when you graduate university. If you’re 25, you probably have another 50+ years ahead of you to continue to learn and grow and discover brand new things that you didn’t know existed or think you’d find interesting. Don’t think that you’ve come to the end of your education and now have only the options you can see open to you. Instead, make some choices based on your education and your current options, and then go forth and learn more and more for the rest of your life. You’ll still be discovering when you’re 40 (or 53, or 72)  – don’t think your learning journey is over now.

Be thankful for entering adulthood with the skills and knowledge you have, but don’t stop there: make big plans to go out and develop more and better skills, and gain more knowledge.

Learn the difference between things you love doing and things you get paid to do

The career you had from age 5 to age 22 (aka, school) is the only one you’ll ever have that will perfectly combine sports, math, science, art, history, theatre, music, and every other subject or extra-curricular you participated in. Don’t try to find an outlet for all your creativity and passion in one job or career (though if you do find one, that’s fantastic). Learn that it’s OK to have things you love doing, and things you get paid to do, and for them not to entirely overlap.

See the value of commitment

Rather than letting yourself stay paralysed by your own potential, commit to doing something. No, you probably aren’t the best at whatever you are thinking of doing, nor are you the first to think of doing it, but there is value in simply getting on with it and building something. The biggest difference between you and someone else doing what you want to do is that they are doing it.

The only thing worse than being paralysed by our own potential is wasting our potential. And a guaranteed way to waste our potential is to fritter it away by spending our 20s in constant indecision.