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New Year, New Media – part two

December 1, 2018   5 mins

At UnHerd, we want our expectations challenged and understanding of the world expanded. So we asked a selection of contributors from across the worlds of journalism, politics and academia to share their less conventional sources of inspiration and information.


Steven Pinker
Author and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard

Our World in Data is a site that portrays our world with data rather than with headlines. The view is utterly different.

News is about what happens, like wars and epidemics, not what doesn’t happen, like peace and health. And it’s about what happens suddenly, whereas the world is often transformed gradually in increments that add up to momentous change.

The economist Max Roser has assembled an astonishing array of datasets about the world, with visualisation tools that make them easy to grasp, and concise commentaries that highlight the major trends and developments and explain why they happened. One comes away from the site with a radically different and far more accurate image of the world and times we live in.


Christina Sommers
Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

” The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” This quotation is ubiquitous and usually attributed to Albert Einstein. But there is no evidence he said it. According to the indispensable website Quote Investigator (QI), the closest match first appeared in a 1981 Narcotics Anonymous pamphlet. After that, it flouted around self-help circles for a few years. By 1990, newspapers began attributing it to Einstein. Now it’s an internet staple,

QI’s long list of fake quotations is a revelation. Edmund Burke never said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Still, the faux aphorism is a favorite on social media. Everyday, throngs of Twitter and Facebook users pass it along. Someone needs to direct them to Quote Investigator.


Peter Oborne
Journalist and author

I find Conflicts Forum, run by Alastair Crooke and Aisling Byrne, essential for understanding the emerging world order. Their subscription press service has a brilliant knack of pinpointing illuminating articles in unlikely places. In addition, Crooke provides a weekly essay which contains the best and clearest geopolitical analysis you will find anywhere. He has been proved right about events time and again.

Middle East Eye, a site I also write for that was founded three years ago, goes from strength to strength. It provides an illuminating new perspective on the Middle East, and its reporting is rigorous and impartial. MEE led the way on the rise of Mohammad Bin Salman, leading onto the Jamal Khashoggi tragedy.

Voice of Rohingya, a Twitter account (@VoiceRohingyaa) gives an appalling insight into the genocide against the Rohingya people. Finally, for British politics I love the Full Fact fact-checking service, while Hugo Dixon’s Infacts is consistently illuminating on Brexit.

Katharine Birbalsingh
Author and headmistress of Michaela Community School

When I want to read interesting viewpoints, I tend to turn to Quillette, the Australian online magazine and The Atlantic Monthly, the American online magazine.

I like Quillette because they are brave enough to question the usual dogma that weighs us all down. I may not agree with everything they say, but they certainly make me think. The Atlantic Monthly comes at news from the other side politically and from the other side of the world. I like the longer style essays that allow the author to delve deep into a subject. Again, I don’t always agree with the writers, but I enjoy the mental stimulation.

I also like watching The Rubin Report on YouTube, where David Rubin interviews someone for an hour about their area of expertise. He always chooses out-of-the-box thinkers and the interview style is conversational and inviting. I look forward to the holiday where I can really indulge in these three things!


Jim Waterson
Media Editor, The Guardian

I always used to read the print edition of York Evening Press after school and I still check its website first thing every morning. Despite relentless cuts by owner Newsquest, it’s a pretty good model of what a local newspaper should be, with reporters who know the community. If you’re a lucky enough to still have a decent local newspaper, then read it obsessively. You’re likely to pick up on trends and stories that London-based papers miss.

Transport shapes everyone’s lives, shapes where people work, and can make a massive different to quality of life. Also, trains are brilliant. London Reconnections is one of the best written most in-depth sites around. Their post explaining Uber’s business model in the capital is well-sourced, meticulously researched, and clearly written.

A culture magazine funded as a corporate project by a shaving business should be absolutely terrible. For some reason MEL Magazine isn’t and it consistently features weird, considered takes on modern online life. And they haven’t ever tried to sell me a razor.


Elizabeth Oldfield
Director, Theos

The podcast I reliably go to when I want to feel informed, inspired and better equipped be some use in the world is OnBeing.

Created by Krista Tippett, a former New York Times journalist and diplomat, it intelligently explores matters of faith, moral imagination and what a wise life looks like now. In our noisy information environment most outlets fight for attention by being louder, shorter, simpler and seemingly shallower.

Refreshingly, Krista has grown a faithful and engaged audience by interviewing the hidden influencers, the people too busy making the world a better place to spend time on self-promotion. Listening to it helps snap me out of imposed urgency and reminds me of the fundamental questions: what does it mean to be human, how do we want to live, and who will we be to each other?


Sarah Sands
Editor, BBC Radio 4’s Today

On Twitter, I follow mostly individuals, usually reporters, often the number two or three in the pecking order who are doing a lot of unseen work. For political websites, I’m not wildly unconventional. I go to the usuals: from Politico and the FT, to ConservativeHome, Slate, and The Hill to name a random a few.

Otherwise, I read National Geographic, and look at BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner’s Instagram for bird pictures and sunsets. I also like Eyob Derillo at the British Library on ancient illuminated manuscripts.

When it comes to podcasts, Brexitcast and Beyond Today from the BBC, as well as David Axelrod’s The Axe Files. Finally, Dead Ringers and anything to do with Tom Service on BBC Radio 3.


And UnHerd’s own Peter Franklin shares five tips on how to use Twitter without losing your mind

Ah, Twitter! Is there any social media site that’s more hated by its own users? We’re all addicted, of course – but here are some harm reduction tips for 2019.

Firstly, don’t argue with strangers. Obvious really, but all the same, just don’t.

Secondly, and further to the above, turn off your mentions – or at least restrict them to people you follow.

Thirdly, though Twitter is a truly horrible forum for debate, it’s a brilliant noticeboard. Try following fewer individuals (especially ranters, emoters, edgelords and news junkies) and follow more publications (especially those that publish and link to the work of thoughtful, insightful writers).”

Here are a couple of suggestions:

The New York Times is not exactly the most unheard-of publications – but for links to some of the impressive analytical journalism and infographics available in the world today, follow @upshotNYT and @NYTgraphics accounts.

On the other side of US political aisle, but very reasonably so, is the Institute for Family Studies. For links to eye-opening social research (and to brilliant writers and researchers like @lymanstoneky and @wilcoxNMP), follow the Inst. Family Studies account.

Breaking my rule about individual accounts, I can gratefully recommend Sunder Katwala’s – who manages to tweet about Brexit, immigration and other divisive issues without being divisive. I don’t always agree with him, but his tweets are a peaceful island in a roiling, angry, snarky ocean.

Fourthly, get a reader app like Pocket that allows you to quickly download articles from Twitter links.

Fifthly, once you’ve got something grown-up to read, get off Twitter.

Various Contributors bringing a range of different voices.


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