Your mind is too valuable to fill with junk just because it is free. I explain how to absorb high quality news even with limited time.
"You become what your mind consumes" by reading, watching and listening.
Instead of taking in news at random, you should choose what you consume.
I show how to do this even if you have limited time.
Posted 10 August 2020. Updated 14 January 2023.
We all know “You are what you eat.”
Sadly, many ignore another truth. "You become what your mind consumes" by reading, watching and listening.
All of us, no matter how widely travelled, have very limited direct knowledge of the world from travel or meeting people. None of us can have direct knowledge of anything that happened we were born.
Most of our knowledge must, unavoidably, be second-hand.
We choose the media we consume. In turn, that choice makes us the person we become. We should choose consciously, rather than "just letting it happen."
How not to do it
One of my informal mentees is over 40, and well educated — he has a science PhD. He is also interested in politics and has had electoral ambitions.
After being shocked by learning how ignorant he was about politics, I asked him which newspapers he read. He explained that he did not read any. Instead he got his news from social media, including reading linked newspaper articles.
This approach has several problems:
What you see depends upon what other people choose to publish on social media.
There are vast swathes of important news you will never see, because people do not share it.
What you see is entirely haphazard.
How to do it
How much to do depends on your interest and resources. However every citizen needs to understand what is happening in the world to a reasonable extent.
The easy way
Subscribe to just one high quality newspaper. Read this more or less completely.
I recommend “The Economist”, on paper (which also brings electronic access with it) for several reasons:
Reading on paper is easier than reading on screen.
Being weekly, rather than daily, you can easily read the entire issue over a week. Reading the whole of a daily newspaper takes too much time.
Being weekly, the Economist takes a more measured approach rather than focusing on that day’s headlines.
Being written for subscribers worldwide, it is not excessively UK focused. There is always a chunky section on the UK, but there are also equivalent sections on the USA, Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East, Asia, business, finance, science, books and arts.
This approach ensures you will learn things that you did not know that you needed to know. That is one of the key benefits of quality newspaper. For example, reading the Economist’s obituaries of people I had never heard of has taught me much.
Simply learning more about what that you are already interested in shuts you off from too much potential knowledge.
You don't have to go beyond the basic approach above. However if you do, make sure that you also include quality sources that disagree with what you believe.
For example, while my political philosophy is broadly centre-right, I subscribe to "New Statesman" because the writing is good and I get exposure to left-wing views.
Similarly, although I am passionately pro-EU and a liberal internationalist, I subscribe to "The Spectator" and read Charles Moore's weekly column because he writes well, despite my disagreeing with most of what he says.
If you do not expose yourself to differing views, you risk living in your own ideological bubble.
What I do personally
Unlike most people, I am retired which gives me lots of time for reading. The costs of newspapers are financially manageable for me and I am a “news junkie.”
I subscribe for so many newspapers because I often see links to articles, and find it frustrating clicking through hits a pay wall.
Below are the news sources I currently pay for, in alphabetical order, as they may stimulate some interest.
Because I was a partner, for 20 years I received a paper copy every day, paid for by my firm. When I retired, I took out an electronic only subscription. It has extremely high quality coverage of general news, but the extent of its financial coverage means that, unless you have a strong interest in business or investment, it is probably too expensive compared with other quality newspapers.
I started subscribing a few years ago because I wanted to be able to click through to links. Since I started receiving it on paper weekly, I have found it interesting and it has broadened my political perspectives. I read this on paper, but also have electronic access.
I have been interested in science all my life, as has my wife. Accordingly, I took out a subscription shortly after we got married and this is the longest running subscription of my life. It is easy to read, with no mathematics, and ensures that I stay in touch with scientific developments.
I started seeing a lot of articles from the Atlantic when a respected acquaintance began sharing them in a WhatsApp group. I was struck by their high quality, so I subscribed. The Atlantic gives you an in-depth understanding. For example, it is where I learned that Joe Biden has suffered from a stutter all his life, but has tried to keep that out of public view, inadvertently harming his image. (What happens is that he mis-speaks, because he is trying so hard to avoid stuttering in public.)
The Guardian actually has no pay wall, so everyone can read it online free. However, I subscribe, electronic only, because I believe in its mission of independent quality news, and recognise that needs to be paid for, especially when the Guardian is competing with large media organisations. I regard its continued health as important for the quality of British democracy.
I have subscribed for about 15 years. Because of my involvement with the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester, it helps to know what is happening in the Jewish community nationally. The JC (as it is invariably called) enables me to do this. I read it on paper each week, but also have electronic access.
The Mill sets out to be Greater Manchester's quality newspaper, delivered by email. It was founded in 2020, but I only learned about it in the spring of 2022. After receiving the free version for a month or so, I decided to subscribe for all the reasons explained on this page. I feel much better informed about what is happening in Greater Manchester due to reading it, as otherwise I spend most of my time in London.
This is the most intellectually broad magazine I have ever come across. See my website page “Read the New York Review of Books.” As well as book reviews, it also contains articles on current politics, but does not set out to do pure news reporting. I read it on paper, but also have electronic access.
Probably the leading newspaper in the USA and one of the world’s most important newspapers. Its resources enable it to cover international news in great detail, and it has very high objectivity and accuracy standards. My subscription is purely electronic.
Having recently celebrated its 10,000th issue, the Spectator is the longest continuously published magazine in the world. I disagree with much of its politics, but I appreciate the quality of writing. Furthermore, although its editorial line is well to the right of centre (and strongly anti-EU), it believes in a diversity of views and regularly features columns by Nick Cohen who is well to the left of centre. I also like the chess column. I read this on paper, but also have electronic access.
This is a new media venture set up by a group of leading journalists. Its brand positioning is “Slow news” with the intention of increasing your understanding rather than competing to be first with breaking news. They have regular events in central London with interesting speakers and much opportunity for audience participation. These are very easy for me to attend when I am in my London flat. It is electronic only.
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