A personal guide to getting the best news off the web

September 15th, 2008

I’m not so much a news junkie as an information junkie. I need data, and massive amounts of it. And with the major news events over the weekend: hurricane Ike*, Lehman Brothers’ colapse*, the suicide of David Foster Wallace*, and Tina Fey impersonating Sarah Pailin impersonating Tina Fey – I kept myself on the bleeding edge of every development.

While weblogs are great for keeping track of cultural developments, tech news, and news analysis; getting ahold of the actual events still needs traditional media outlets. And let’s face it: print news is dead; getting updates through the internet is the best method. Updates come fast and strong. So keeping on top of events as they happen is easy now as you can check anytime, instead of waiting for the morning or evening editions. Plus it’s easier to find stories that may not have been considered highly newsworthy, but important nonetheless.

This post is a guide to how I get my news. My sources are a little intense and may be overkill as the same stories will get repeated over and over at each news source, but they all provide a unique enough perspective to cover all the bases and give a possible edge in knowing the whole story. In fact, one could read only a few of these sources and still be better informed than 95% of the population.

Each group is numbered by importance, meaning how frequently they are checked. Group one is for top stories and Group 2 is for business news. Group 3, which is international sites, is really only for additional coverage to catch any news that fell through the cracks at the other sites, and to get a better view of the world situation. Group 4 is some extra tools which can come in handy, and are fun.

Group 1: General News

BBC – The best source for general international news. The BBC is much less country-biased than any of the U.S. media sites and places emphasis on news that’s more important worldwide. Which made it very surprising to see my hometown mentioned as a top story when it was under water last June. If you can only check one site, make it the BBC. Here’s BBC’s mobile site.

CNN – You could switch CNN for MSNBC and get the same effect, but I prefer CNN’s video setup, so this is on the list. CNN is for national news; international news gets little play. Sure, they may put as a top story the goings-on of Britney Spears or some other crap, but you need a source for American news by Americans. Here’s CNN’s mobile site.

Yahoo! News – Yahoo News is arguably the best topical news site around. And with Yahoo’s troubles lately, I’m surprised they aren’t leveraging it more: this site is almost as good as BBC’s site, has great AP pictures, and blows the pants off of Google News.

The New York Times – All of the NY Times’ national and international news is repeated elsewhere, but what you get here is the depth of the story, and about everything. It’s hard to explain but it’s often more enjoyable to read articles from the Times, because they often cover stories in special ways. There’s a reason why the best bloggers link to Times articles.

Local news – Everyone needs to know what’s going on locally. Not only will it affect you faster than national or international events, you have a bigger role and can become more involved with local issues. I suggest finding a good TV station and the best local newspaper. Here in Boston, I check WBZ TV and The Boston Globe. In addition, I also check news from my hometown.

Group 2: Business News

The Wall Street Journal – Here are some reasons why you should keep up with business news: you have a job and work for a living, you are investing in financial tools for retirement or supplemental income, you like money. In other words, business news is important. And The Wall Street Journal is the source for finance, economic, and personal finance articles. They also provide good political coverage. One downside to the WSJ is that to get the best use out of it, you’ll need a subscription to access most of the articles. But it’s worth it if you want to really know what’s going on in the world of business and finance. WSJ also has great blogs with additional coverage.

Bloomberg - Think of Bloomberg as a supplement to The Wall Street Journal, with an emphasis on markets (and a stylish site design). Also, they tend to have the fastest updates on market news. I was getting updates on Lehman’s demise at Bloomberg’s site first.

The EconomistThe Economist is the best-written news magazine. The analysis and opinion offered by The Economist is top-notch and well-informed. It may be off-putting to someone who doesn’t believe in open market capitalism, but that may require a deeper study of economics. It costs to access The Economist, but it’s absolutely worth it. Most people however may not get any use out of it, not to mention get bored by the articles; but it provides the best coverage of international business, finance, and politics anywhere.

Group 3: International News

Al Jazeera - Here in America, the name Al Jazeera conjures up images of Osama Bin Laden videotapes, grainy videos of executions, and anti-American bias. But in reality, Al Jazeera is an excellent news source. Their coverage places importance on events that hardly ever get covered in the U.S.

The Christian Science Monitor - Don’t be put off by the name, these guys are a great news source. In fact, since the Monitor is run by a non-profit, they can afford more international reporters than most other major news outlets.

Der Spiegel – Much like Al Jazeera, Der Spiegel has a different international slant on their news than what you normally get in the U.S.

Reuters – A quick scan of Reuters’ homepage will give you a good idea of what’s going on in the world at the moment.

The Guardian – A fiercely independent British newspaper.

The International Herald Tribune – Essentially international edition of The New York Times. So it’s good to see what’s more newsworthy elsewhere.

Group 4: Suppmlemental Sources
These are a few sites and tools I recommend in addition to the other sites.

The Big Picture blog – It started out as a side project by a web developer at the Boston Globe, and is now one of the most visited blogs. That’s because the large-size, stunning pictures are presented in a way not seen anywhere else.

Mobile News/Bloomberg iPhone apps – This is how you get news on your iPhone. Mobile News is from AP and Bloomberg is…well, Bloomberg.

The New York Times Twitter feed – The Times seems to have the only Twitter feed that gets regularly updated with important news i.e. stuff that’s worth getting quick updates.

Newser – I found this site only a few days ago, but it’s already a favorite. Newser is a news aggregator, but is so polished it’s the first one to actually be useful. First, articles are displayed with a large graphic, and as you scroll through the list of articles it gets longer so you don’t have to go to another page (like when going back through old blog posts). Next the linked articles are summarized so you can get the gist of the story without having to leave the site. So far, every summary is a great executive summary, to save time in case it’s not worth reading the actual article. If you’re content with having someone else picking the news for you, Newser may replace going to all the other sites (it won’t for me).

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned anything about sports. Thats because I couldn’t care less about sports news, with the exception of the Olympics – and that’s over already. You’re on your own for that.

* These articles are from yesterday, so they may already be out of date.

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