One of my principle aims as a columnist is to elevate discourse, thereby contributing to meaningful social progress. Especially progress in my hometown. Last week, I offered 11 New Year’s Resolutions for Bakersfield. Each represents a step forward to improve civic life.
That said, if we wish to build a healthier, more thriving society – and I know from your feedback that most of us do – each of us must work to become better individuals. A strong and prosperous city is built on a foundation of engaged citizens. Engaged citizens who are informed, virtuous and involved.
Social media and the proliferation of the internet have created innumerable platforms for news to be spread, opinions expressed and ideas debated. Unfortunately, this overwhelming deluge of information has created an increasingly ill-informed public. Adding insult to injury, we’ve seen how easy it is for nefarious players, like Russia, to highjack modern technology for their own sinister purposes
Click-bait listicles, memes and never-ending streaming video do far more to distract than focus our attention on things that matter.
This cannot be.
If we want to improve our community, we must begin by becoming more informed.
To that end, I’d like to offer recommendations from my own media habits. Consider this a prescription designed to aid in the development of a more well-informed public.
Staying informed begins with the newspaper. Newspapers provide stories and investigations with much greater detail than is possible in a television broadcast, much less digital video. Newspapers provide a solid base upon which other media can be laid.
In addition to The Bakersfield Californian, I recommend a menagerie of newspapers that cover international and national news, such as The Wall Street Journal or New York Times, and state affairs, like The Los Angeles Times. Most regional, national and international newspapers offer free email newsletters or tip-sheets. I use these briefings to stay on top of the most relevant stories of the day. It helps that they’re often served in digest form.
It’s also thoughtful to consider current events from a foreign perspective to evaluate our biases and remind us that, just as there are varying domestic perspectives, there’s an entire world beyond our shores. My foreign perspectives comes from The Economist.
After print media (including their digital versions), consider adding a few podcasts to your daily routine.
Audio-only, on-demand and free from time constraints, podcasts are an effective tool for reporting on current events and exploring nuance in an engaging, narrative format. Although they have been around for quite some time, podcasts have seen a rapid increase in popularity correlating with the ubiquity of smartphones. They are also easily digested while on-the-go, making them great gym and commute companions.
For a start on current events, I recommend WSJ “What’s News,” a brief, twice-daily podcast on the top stories from The Wall Street Journal; “The Economist: the week ahead,” with weekly episodes covering the forthcoming issue of The Economist; and, “California Politics Podcast” hosted by John Myers, Sacramento bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times.
Beyond politics, I enjoy podcasts that entertain, educate and uplift. NPR’s “How I Built This with Guy Raz” features interviews with the founders of some of the 21st Century’s most iconic brands. There is something deeply inspiring about hearing the stories of how companies like Patagonia, Airbnb, WeWork and Chipotle came to be. Another podcast from NPR, “TED Radio Hour,” features audio from some of the most intriguing TED Talks, curated around a connecting theme.
Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History” challenges our understanding of past events, and series like “The EntreLeadership Podcast” offer discussions and tips on leadership, personal growth and business development.
It would be naïve to consider this prescription exhaustive or complete. Rather, consider it a starting point, based on my own experiences as a husband, neighbor, citizen and friend.
There are significant distinctions between media that entertain and media that seek to inform. It is critical that we endeavor to discern and discard charlatans who purport to inform but, in actuality, offer nothing other than cheap entertainment.
The best voices manage to entertain while informing. Seek them out. And, when you find them, share them with the rest of us!
January provides a natural opportunity for introspection. A time for considering our personal trajectory and identifying opportunities to make changes needed for growth as both individuals and a community. My hope this month is that we each identify ways to become more informed.
However, information alone will not make our community a better place to call home. Knowledge without virtue is worth little. More on that next week.
Contributing columnist Justin Salters writes weekly on politics, culture and civic engagement; the views expressed are his own. Reach him at Facebook.com/thatjustinsalters, Twitter @justinsalters or email@example.com.