Stephen Dubner wonders about reading news

Stephen Dubner writes:

Admirim Luboteni, living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, writes with a simple but hard question:

Which general news/business sites should one read daily to keep himself well-informed?

I will be interested to see how many people suggest aggregators like Newser or a new one I just heard about, NewsCred.

Also, I would add to Admirim’s question:

Which blogs?

The simple answer is, none.

News, by and large, is noise. It does nothing to keep you informed, it just gives you a convenient delusion of being informed. When you read news, you have to make two leaps of faith simultaneously, (1) that what the reporter says is true, and (2) that what the reporter says is important and/or relevant. Needless to say, there is never any assurance of either. People constantly forget this and construct a parallel mental universe, only superficially resembling the actual one, from news clippings. Suffice it to say that to this day, many people that consider themselves educated think that Word War I was caused by assassination of Franz Ferdinand, rather than by the gold standard…

Additionally, even if all news were true and relevant, you would still need the ability to put the news items into a proper context. And that ability simply cannot be gained by reading news; it requires a combination of raw intelligence and training.  But you can’t be trained in everything; there’s only so much you can know well.  Hence, a more complicated answer: to stay informed about the developments in your area of expertise, you need news sources that you yourself (or someone whose opinion you respect) deemed to be of sufficient quality in that area.  To give an extreme example, publications that cover horse racing well are unlikely to have an equally good coverage of developments in particle physics and vice versa.

As to blogs, they are a genre of literature. They are no more intended to keep you informed than romantic novels or Greek tragedy. Most blog writers out there are commentators, not reporters…

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