Information toolbox: keeping up with the media and current events

I get up every morning now and diligently read the news. I didn’t start doing this for noble reasons. It’s my way of attacking the current events quizzes I have on a weekly basis in one of my Texas State classes.

But I’m not going to deny it feels good. Maybe I’m odd that way, but I was also the kind of teenager that would buy the New York Daily News every day for my hourlong morning commute to high school. Now, when people at work discuss current events, I can get involved in the conversation with confidence.

I also want to be a good, conscientious journalist, so figuring out the best ways to get my news was bound to happen. But there’s work involved before there’s any sort of payoff.

So here I am with a subscription to The New York Times and The Washington Post. I get daily email rundowns, news alerts and Twitter notifications. I’m having a real “what have I become?” moment as I write this.

But it’s hard to imagine my life without having some idea of what’s going on in the world. Even if I threw my phone into Lady Bird Lake in Austin, that wouldn’t do anything about the people around me discussing the news. It’s crucial to take control of the situation.

It could be because we enjoy being in the loop, we’re worried about algorithms on social media or we’re needing an “A” on a current events quiz, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

More importantly, you might have heard talk of an “informed” citizenry being crucial to democracy before. It’s hard to get involved if you’re expecting germane information and true motivation to magically come to you. I probably wouldn’t be studying journalism or writing this blog if I didn’t have tools like these.

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Slideshow photos by John Hernandez

Curation: Nuzzel (Android, iOS)

Nuzzel has a simple premise: it’s a curator for all of the content that you see through regular social media channels. In practice, this means news articles that are shared by a specific number of people you follow on Twitter or Facebook are brought into the app for you to read. This serves as a best-of list of recent articles that you are likely to be interested in. If you’ve got FOMO for news in your social circles, this app is the cure.

RSS: Feedly (Android, iOS) or Inoreader (Android, iOS)

It’s hard to find diverse news sources when your inclination might be to download each media company’s app individually. I took another route with Feedly. It began as a replacement for Google Reader, a much beloved RSS aggregator, that Google pulled the plug on some time ago. RSS, in case you’re wondering, usually stands “Really Simple Syndication.” Its purpose, in the simplest terms, is to negate the need for you to check websites manually for new information. RSS feeds bring the information to you.

Feedly and Inoreader are apps for collecting those feeds in one place. This blog, for example, has a feed, and huge media companies, like Buzzfeed or Sports Illustrated, use RSS, too. Feedly and Inoreader have the ability to search for those feeds and organize everything into categories. Stick all your strange comics or posts about the San Antonio Spurs in one place and read them separately or together. It’s up to you.

Breaking news: Google News & Weather (Android, iOS)

Breaking news alerts are important. I’ve never been one to depend on one source for that information, though. Google aggregates a variety of sources in one app and does the work of sending you important news notifications. It also works to provide some sources that may be relevant but not worthy of a dedicated following in another app. For example, I’m not going to follow every single local news station out there, so I count on this app to provide me with the local news I need from those sources.

News rundown (app): Yahoo News Digest (Android, iOS)

If I’m busy or tired, as humans are bound to be sometimes, I might just want to get caught up on current events without doing all the work. Yahoo News Digest does that. It came out of the demise of another app called Summly, which sought to aggregate news and give you a rundown of what you need to know that day. Yahoo’s app will send you up to two notifications, one in the morning and evening, with 7-10 summaries of news events that occurred between those time periods. The individual summaries cite their references and often include links to more information, like Wikipedia articles, in case you want to brush up on a specific event.

It’s also a visually striking application. Scrolling through each of the numbered news summaries until you get to the end of the set brings a palpable sense of accomplishment.

News rundown (web/email): The Week

If you prefer your news summaries on a website or in email form, The Week has you covered. Their daily email newsletter offers the top ten things you need to know from the previous day’s news. They also update their website throughout the day with “5 things you need to know now.” Their summaries are a bit more satisfying than Yahoo News Digest. I suspect there’s more of a human touch involved as opposed to Yahoo’s algorithmic approach.

Reddit: Boost (Android)

Any website that touts itself as “the front page of the internet” is bound to have some inane content. But for all the silly stuff, there are some worthy subreddits, i.e. communities that have a common theme, that can offer useful information. “r/live,” for example, is a good resource for real-time updates on breaking news that is curated by contributors in that community. Collaboration and community are two of the primary principles of Reddit, so it’s also a good place to look for discussion of specific topics, like politics. However, like with any comment section on the web, tread carefully.

Personally, I use Boost for browsing Reddit, but there are a lot of apps to choose from, including the official one.

Bookmarking: Pocket (Android, iOS) or Instapaper (Android, iOS)

This blog post probably explains why I get in trouble for staring at my phone too much. The solution for not being rude or not having enough time to read an engaging article is to save it to Pocket or Instapaper.

Both of these apps allow you to bookmark individual articles for later. They can also present the information in a cleaner form for easier reading (hence, the “paper” in Instapaper) by reformatting the article to eliminate the clutter of a typical webpage.

Pocket also has a tagging system that allows you to organize your saved articles, as well. It comes in handy when I find something I might want to blog or write about later.

Podcasts: Podcast Addict (Android)

I have time to kill when I commute from Austin to San Marcos. I also have eyes that need time away from a digital screen and ears that might not be in the mood to listen to music. Podcasts are my refuge and Podcast Addict is my Android app of choice to collect them.

Current events might not be your thing, but if you’re interested in anything else at all, which is likely if you’re alive and breathing, then there’s probably a podcast about it. For example, if you’ve never listened to people read from their childhood diaries for your entertainment, then find a podcast app and download Mortified. The Guardian offers 49 other podcasts you can start with. I wasn’t kidding about the variety of topics.

Pocket Casts is another great app option that works on either iOS and Android.

Twitter: Flamingo (Android)

Twitter is valuable for breaking news and following media sources, but it can be overwhelming. I also don’t like the ads, which led me to stop using the official Twitter app. I started looking for alternatives and noticed the added customization and elegant design of all the third-party Twitter options. I’ve tried most of the major options on Android and finally settled on Flamingo, which is one of the newest offerings on the Play Store.

Flamingo allows me to create an easily accessible timeline of my favorite Twitter users. The official Twitter app can do that, too, albeit in a slightly more complicated manner. I find this method to be the most effective way to rein in the endless sprawl of following too many things on Twitter. If you’re on iOS, consider springing for Tweetbot if you’re a heavy Twitter user.

These are my main sources for news, but this list is bound to evolve. Let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations.


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