When I started my freshman year of high school, I thought Tehran was a country in Asia (it’s the capital of Iran) and I couldn’t tell Eric Holder from Leon Panetta (in 2012, the Attorney General and Secretary of Defense, respectively). But by graduation, I could speak intelligently on most current events issues, both foreign and domestic. I tried to start reading the news many times while I was in middle and high school, but every time I opened up a news website I was overwhelmed by the names of people and places that I’d never heard of and stories I had no background, so I gave up and went back to my video games.
Eventually, I was able to read the news and stick with it. When I did, I found myself engaging in better conversations with my teachers, parents, and friends. The challenge is, how do you get over the overwhelming feeling of starting to read the news?
Even before you open a single article, you can set yourself up for a good news-consumption experience. To start, think about what kind of news you think you’d find the most interesting. Is it sports, science, domestic politics, a particular region of the world? There’s no pressure to read all the news on all topics, all the time. Read what you’re interested in—over time, you may find yourself branching out into other topics, but if you keep the news an enjoyable, interesting experience, it’ll feel like less of a chore.
Don’t just pick one news site and stick to it all the time. Every journalist, reporter, and website has bias. If you only read left-leaning or right-leaning news, 1) you’re not getting the full story in what you’re reading, and 2) you aren’t challenging your beliefs or ideas. By exposing yourself to a variety of viewpoints, you’ll broaden your perspective and be able to better empathize with people of all political stripes.
If it’s overwhelming to check out a ton of sites every day, try using a news aggregator to bring you interesting stories from a variety of sources. The News app on iOS delivers content directly to your iPhone and daily email digests such as TheSkimm and the New York Times morning briefing send you a short summary of the days news.
When you start reading the news, it can be tough to figure out just what is going on—after all, most news is in the middle of an ongoing story (e.g., the presidential election or the fight against ISIS) and oftentimes, articles don’t give you a thorough background on the issue, just what happened recently. To get around this, first try picking just one region or long-term story to follow. The first news story I closely followed was the changes in relations between the U.S. and Iran in 2012; when I started reading articles about it, I had no idea what was going on. What got me through was my second piece of advice for getting background: have Wikipedia at the ready.
While you usually can’t use it in class essays, Wikipedia is an awesome resource for getting background on people and places that you might not be familiar with. Being able to quickly check out an unfamiliar name or term can greatly streamline the process of familiarizing yourself with a new region or story.
Reading the news is a tricky new skill to pick up. But like any skill, you’ll get better with practice. Find what you like, read it when you can, and you’ll find yourself more aware, more engaged, and more able to follow the world around you.
Also published on Medium.