3 Ideas to Help Interpret the News

young person touching a globe

Given the current crisis we find ourselves in, I have been spending a lot of time-consuming news. I have also have observed many perfunctory comments about the news, especially as COVID-19 attempts to take-over our lives. So, given that we all have a little more time on our hands, here are 3 ideas to help interpret what is going on right now (i.e. what we normally refer to as “the news”).

First off, if you take nothing else from this post please understand that every news outlet has bias. Every human being, myself included, has a bias. This does not necessarily make the news “fake,” but it could be “spun” to suit someone’s worldview. This is why interpreting the news is important.

My news outlet of choice, the Wall Street Journal, is probably best characterized as “right” economically” and “middle” socially. So, it is best that I read the news with the appropriate context in mind – more on that in point #2 below. Before going there, however, please consider that almost all “media” is FOR PROFIT and needs consumers to continue to exist (especially T.V. News stations, podcasts, and even newspapers). I do prefer newspapers because they are “slow news,” meaning reporters actually sit down, write, and are edited (most of the time) prior to the publishing deadline.

Second, check alternative sources. As I said above, my news choice is the Wall Street Journal. But I also sign up to the New York Times “daily briefing.” The NYT is, arguably, “left” of the WSJ, so I like to check in on what they have to say. This gives me more information to think about. If you prefer podcasts, there are thousands of pods out there. So, I’d challenge you to listen to one that makes you feel a little uncomfortable, rather than one that simply reinforces your bias.

Third, and here is where I probably differ from conventional advice given on this topic, I (rather passionately!) believe that one needs to be a student of history to interpret the news well. This means reading/listening to thoroughly researched historical books. I cannot emphasize this enough, and the fact that many Americans (adults and children) do not know much about our history is the one thing that makes me feel pessimistic about our future as a country. Thankfully, this can be easily changed. In fact, while you have extra time —and we all have extra time right now —I implore you to read one good history book. Just one! Start with a David McCullough book, or something else, it does not matter. Learning from the past, helps place current events in their appropriate context.

I have gone on long enough on this impromptu post. I implore you to remember media is biased. Chew on what you read, meaning think before you react. Think! Use your brain. And by all means, understand where we have come from, how we got here, and why it matters.

p.s. I am currently finishing up Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile. I highly recommend this to leaders during COVID-19. May we lead with the courage of Churchill!