New Year, New Media
Network television news is trash. If the past few years have proved anything, it’s that the biggest names in American news media like CNN, Fox, and MSNBC are quickly becoming outdated and decrepit. These networks are awful for many reasons; clear partisan bias, poor journalism, reliance on fear mongering, spreading misinformation, using the same recycled “expert” panelists, et cetera et cetera. Contributing to all of the above issues is the underlying business model of the 24 hour news cycle, which is entirely dependent on sensationalism. Perhaps worst of all, network television news companies are woefully out of touch with the basic wants and needs of the American people on both sides of the aisle.
Let’s be clear - this is not a Trump-style attack on the media. On the contrary, my point is that we need better media. Historically, network television news has held a monopoly over public information, and the continued abuse of that power is inexcusable. It should be no surprise that the TV news audience is rapidly decaying (literally and metaphorically - the median age of a Fox News viewer is 66). Writing on this topic in 2015, Vox founder Ezra Klein points out that median daily viewership for CNN, MSNBC, and Fox have fallen nearly 11% since 2008 as these networks fail to adapt to the demands of their audience.
According to the Nielsen Total Audience Report, a quarterly analysis of American media viewership, news consumption is higher than ever yet the TV audience is steadily declining. Unsurprisingly, this is entirely due to the massive rise in online news. According to a recent Pew Research Center article, TV news viewership in 2016 fell at nearly the same rate that online news consumption increased for the first time in history. If it's any consolation, there was one age group for whom TV viewership remained almost constant - the 65 and over cohort.
Thanks to the internet, network television news finally has legitimate competitors in the marketplace of ideas. True, many major news networks are also developing a large online presence. However, there is no denying that the internet provides a more level playing field for all shapes and sizes of news sources. Not only is this leading to higher quality news coverage, but it also allows more points of view to be expressed in more varied formats like podcasts and multimedia video.
Big TV networks such as CNN, Fox, and MSNBC are failing their basic responsibility to keep us informed, and their negligence is already causing audiences to leave. Frankly, they do not deserve our views or our money. Instead, we should make the extra effort in 2018 to support the new media that are giving these aging networks a run for their money while providing us with better and more abundant information.
Below I’ve compiled a short list of new media sources that I think are worth your attention this year. Of course, all media are biased; you should diversify your sources and never rely on one person or company. I tried to offer a wide variety in size and political leaning, but my recommendations are innately biased too and this list is by no means meant to be exhaustive or exclusive. I invite comments suggesting other quality news sources that I may be unaware of.
These recommendations vary in format, style, age, size, and scope; some are individual people or shows, and some are overall media companies. Because it’s relevant to the conversation, I mention where I think each entry falls on the political spectrum, but none of these sources are obvious demagogues of either political party.
Vox is a new media company founded in part by Ezra Klein in 2014, who I mentioned in my intro. The company is very similar to a classical news site; frequent articles, good mix of opinion and fact-based reporting, and a good blend of political and general interest news. Where the company differentiates itself is its quick-to-the-point style, impressively well-researched analyses, and strong multimedia approach. For example, Vox has found a specialty in making informative videos analyzing all sorts of current events through a mix of data visualization and animation. Vox also hosts a number of fantastic podcasts, like the Ezra Klein Show, where the editor-in-chief talks with leaders in the world of politics and technology about a wide variety of topics. With a high production value and strong connection to public interest, Vox is a refreshing, young news source that leans left of center. Vox is the best all around new media company on this list, in my opinion.
Yes, Bloomberg News is on television, but don’t group this network in with the CNN’s and the Fox’s because they’ve been an underdog since they started as a business news program in the 90’s. In recent years, Bloomberg News has expanded into the fields of politics and technology, while still maintaining a fairly apolitical approach by sticking to their independent roots in business and economics. Bloomberg News has a website divided into separate areas on business, politics, technology, and opinion. The politics section is a strong blend of national and global news. But for those who don’t want to abandon TV news entirely, I recommend switching over to Bloomberg News channels to see more unique experts, less biased news, and an overall higher quality in reporting. While many smaller TV media companies act like carbon copies of CNN or Fox News, Bloomberg News has developed a business-centric, level-headed approach that is missing on big network television.
Great field reporting, great on foreign affairs, great documentary-style news. Vice News is a left-leaning online media company that mainly produces articles and video content, and they also have a news program on HBO. With a raw, on-the-ground focus to their reporting, Vice News is a raw deconstruction of the usual overpolishedness of network TV news. For the most part, Vice focuses on national and global stories. Vice's coverage of conflicts and movements is particularly strong and nuanced. I like Vice because they often focus on major stories that the mainstream news ignores, so it is a fantastic supplemental source to stay informed about a wide variety of current events.
Of all of the obscure free news shows on Youtube, the PDS is leaps and bounds ahead of its competition. Back in the day, Philip Defranco made corny, low quality pop culture videos; but in recent years he’s transformed his show into a serious, professional independent news program with great research and strong viewer connection. Each episode of the PDS cuts straight to the facts of the stories and then separately Defranco provides a level-headed opinion. Similar to Vice, Defranco tends to focus on less mainstream stories, and many of his coverage choices are decided based on viewer input. Politically, Defranco’s views are very center, and his ability to consistently maintain a wide politically diverse audience should speak for itself in this day and age.
In fear of being immediately written off as a biased liberal, I intentionally left off all of the NPR network despite their relevance to this conversation. However, Planet Money, NPR’s business and economics podcast, is the exception. It’s one of their most apolitical and genuinely unique programs. Planet Money is not a strict news show anyway - instead, each episode tells a business/economics story that is related to current events in some way or another. Not only are the stories often humorous, but they offer new perspectives on what’s going on in the world through the lens of casual economics. From explaining how a country goes bankrupt to exploring the role of bees in almond farming, this podcast takes complex economics and turns them into non-technical, insightful stories. For me, Planet Money is great because it focuses on the less-covered aspects of the news and current events. Planet Money falls slightly left of the center in terms of topics discussed, but the show has less of the in-your-face political banter that turns many conservatives away from NPR.
“Louder with Crowder” is a talk show-ish podcast with a strange mix of sketch comedy, political commentary, and news reporting. Steven Crowder’s podcast/Youtube show is a refreshingly humorous take on conservative political commentary, which often features a wide variety of guests that bring out unique conversations about all kinds of social and political topics. Overall, the show centers on Crowder's commentary on general news, pop culture, and politics. While his humor can be a bit over the top at times, Crowder’s nuanced thoughts on more serious topics are often well articulated and he genuinely welcomes conversations with those who disagree with him. For conservatives tired of the doom-and-gloom approach of Fox News, “Louder with Crowder” is a high quality and more light hearted approach to conservative news.
Created and hosted by comedian and political commentator Dave Rubin, this independent Youtube program is, in a nutshell, an interview-style political talk show. Rubin takes the TV news approach of panelist interviews and turns it on its head. Instead of bringing on several people who each get just a couple minutes to speak their minds, each episode of the Rubin Report is a one-on-one in-depth interview with figures from across the political and social landscape. Each interview is over an hour long, allowing Rubin to truly dive deep with his guests. My favorite part of the Rubin Report is the focus on finding common ground with the guests. Rubin is a center “classical liberal” himself, but he always focuses on finding agreement and allowing his guests to speak, rather than creating division and arguing. Aside from serving as a lesson on how we all should approach political discourse, the Rubin Report is a consistently thought-provoking show that does not get the attention it deserves for the wide variety of quality guests and conversations it provides.
Politico is one of those outlets that is hated by people on the left AND the right for not being left or right enough, which is a reliable sign that it is a quality center-standing source of news. Politico, founded in 2007, is a very traditional style media company whose focus is on elections, policy, and in-depth political analysis. It’s somewhat similar to Vox with online podcasts and articles, but with less multimedia and much more of the nitty-gritty of politics. Politico is heavily focused on national political news relating to Congress and the White House, and less on global or general interest news. For those deeply interested in national politics and the inner workings of Washington policy, Politico is a great alternative to the big TV networks. With less bias, more diverse viewpoints, and a general higher quality of reporting, Politico serves as a fact-based source of information desperately needed in the current political climate.
Ben Shapiro is every liberal’s worst nightmare, and as a liberal, I love it. He is undoubtedly one of the sharpest and most intellectually consistent political commentators in the new media space. His news website, the Daily Wire, hosts a number of conservative contributors besides Shapiro, many of whom produce quality articles and podcasts of their own. The site as a whole is good, but Shapiro is by far the main attraction with his podcast, the Ben Shapiro Show, which can also be found on Youtube. Each episode of the show covers the facts of current events along with Shapiro’s well-spoken and nuanced opinions. As a somewhat libertarian, anti-alt-right, moderately conservative, orthodox Jew, Ben Shapiro is one of the most insightful thought leaders on the right today, and someone who I always check in on to hear a different perspective on the news.
True, this website does look like an obscure anime fanfiction blog from the early 2000’s, but you really shouldn’t judge this one on its appearance. I only learned of this site this year from the editor-in-chief here at the CPR, and I wanted to share it on this list because it’s a great off-the-beaten-path source for global news and analysis. The site consists of well-cited, blog-style thought pieces posted by members of the (typically) well-informed website community. Most articles host a lively discussion in the comments as well, which is a great place to find alternative perspectives and resources on the topics at hand. For the most part, the articles focus on foreign affairs, international conflict, and larger economic issues. Politically, the community tends to lean slightly left of center. In the past year, this website has provided me with a quality source for global opinions and served as a great jumping-off point for complicated international news stories.
He’s not exactly a current creator of media, but I include Professor Jordan Peterson because he’s actively involved in the space and has become an important figure in political and social commentary in the last year due to his controversial stance on a complicated Canadian law relating to gender politics. Since then, Peterson has made the rounds on a number of independent podcasts and news shows discussing his position on free speech, social issues, and political polarization. Don't mistake him for your typical talking head; as a clinical psychologist and academic by trade, Peterson's discussions often extend far beyond social and political commentary. Besides his own lecture-style videos on his Youtube channel, he’s an author and frequent interviewee across the internet. Peterson is also an active leader in bringing academia to the online news media space, with big goals of transforming the role of the internet in education. His stance is moderately conservative and his opinions are heavily informed by history and philosophy. I recommend his online lectures and interviews for those interested in new perspectives on social commentary and a unique view on today’s political partisanism.
As an economist, author, former US Secretary of Labor, and professor at UC Berkeley's School of Public Policy, Robert Reich is the liberal renaissance man. From his Facebook page and website, he writes articles, hosts live streams, and produces animated videos where he discusses all types of political and economic analyses in relation to what’s currently happening in American politics. Reich is incredibly well-spoken, informed, and nuanced in his opinions, and honestly, he’s just easy to listen to because he seems like a genuinely nice guy. Reich's content mostly focuses on national politics, economics, and policy analysis. On most topics, his authority as both an academic expert and Washington insider is incredibly valuable. At times he can come off as a bit too activist, but by and large he’s a great source of insightful left-leaning analyses and commentary.