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.
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In the American Senate, the most typical sources for unconventional reporting are my colleague’s stories from back home. Here are a few media outlets to which I also turn:
Our national political reporting frequently tries to find conflict or a political horserace to every story. That can be frustrating to those who just want well reported facts about what is actually happening in our country and communities. It’s why I’m a huge supporter of local news. There isn’t a better source for Florida politics than Sayfie Review. It’s a one-stop shop for everything happening in the Sunshine State, from the Florida Keys to the Panhandle.
The policy quarterlies: National Affairs and American Affairs. In today’s minute-by-minute news cycle, publications that take a step back to understand broader political undercurrents are essential. National Affairs has been my go-to journal for new conservative policy concepts and ideas for years now. American Affairs is the most interesting new publication on the Right, dealing seriously with what nationalism might contribute to our political moment.
The sports site: ProFootballFocus provides insightful analytical information on NFL players. Sometimes the brand name athletes are not the best on the field. Like all analytical tools, PFF numbers have their limits. But as a fan of the science of football it is a valuable site to gain insight on both current players and college prospects.
Associate Editor, New Statesman
Every year, I try to give up Twitter, and every year I fail. But my efforts are helped by Nuzzel, an app which shows the most popular links among your friends over the last four, eight, or 24 hours. It’s a useful way of finding what everyone is talking about, without getting sucked into the maelstrom. Even more helpfully, it also digests the most popular links from Friends of Friends, which is a good way to find articles you might not otherwise have seen.
I’m also a big fan of podcasts (I co-present the New Statesman‘s weekly politics show with Stephen Bush) because you can listen to them while cooking, cleaning or running (ha). I plan to catch up on the second series of Slow Burn, about Monica Lewinsky, when I get a minute. America is currently streets ahead of Britain in terms of longform political podcasts – I also dip into the Daily from the New York Times, The Axe Files with David Axelrod and Pod Save America.
I like newsletters, too: Caroline Crampton’s No Complaints is particularly good if you like offbeat stories and medieval manuscript gifs; for celebrity reflections, I enjoy Anne Helen Petersen of Buzzfeed. My own newsletter, The Bluestocking, is where I do behind-the-scenes commentary on my writing, and post too many articles about (separately) Jane Austen and Facebook.
Deputy Editor, All in Britain
I’ve been reading (and occasionally writing for) Spiked since it began in 2001. With a commitment to “fighting for humanism, democracy and freedom”, they have been the most consistent champions of free speech in the British media and also foretold the dangers of identity politics. It’s thought-provoking writing across a range of subjects.
I’ve loved watching a new series called Triggernometry. Two affable comedians have a go at serious, lengthy political interviews and it really works. Guests to date include David Goodhart, Joanna Williams, Helen Pluckrose (and me).
Arts and Letters Daily is a treasure chest of articles and essays compiled across the English-speaking media. You can find real diamonds on a diversity of topics – from the poetry of Allen Ginsberg to the semiotics of sleep. The criteria seem to be “whatever makes your brain fizz”. I’d recommend it as a full-fat, luxurious alternative to Twitter over the Christmas season.”
Chief Political Commentator, The Independent
You may remember a thing called Google Reader, which was a blog aggregator. It was a website that looked a bit like email. It was ugly but simple, and it told you when a blog or news source had a new post. That was in the heyday of blogs, a brief flowering of eclectic commentary before Facebook and Twitter really took off.
Anyway, Google Reader was much loved by a smallish band of devotees, including me, but was discontinued by Google because it was trivial, non-core and had no prospects of making money. So these days I use an aggregator called Feedly, which does roughly the same thing, using the same semi-obsolete RSS feeds, most of which still work.
That’s how I keep track of Tyler Cowen, Chris Dillow and Mike Smithson, who keep the tradition of blogging going. Cowen in particular, an American polymath, has a genius for spotting fascinating new research in economics and behavioural psychology.
Those are the unconventional media sources that leaven the current obsessions of the parliamentary lobby.
Director, Resolution Foundation
With Brexit dominating so much of the news coverage, it’s tempting to escape it all with a good (and ideally very long) novel. But there are plenty of other ways to hear about new thinking and alternative perspectives.
Wonky blogs are a great place to learn about new research, often with handy summaries that may be more use than long papers that are a little too ‘academic’. I’d recommend VoxEU as a good start for economics-related content.
For podcasts, I’d recommend this Tim Harford classic on Radio 4 and Gary Gibbon’s excellent Where Next? on Channel 4 – or if Brexit has kindled a new found interest in international trade, you can try Soumaya Keynes’s (of the Economist) Trade Talks.
Finally, crowdsourcing. At RF we have a culture of sharing around the best reads, which I summarise in a weekly email. Word of mouth (or email at least) beats Twitter hands down.
Broadcaster and journalist
When I’m not ‘wording’, I’m a fine artist making films and photographs. My 2019 resolutions are to make my second film, Cold Reading, following my debut An Impossible Poison (2017) and launch my first photo book, The Last English Dancing Season.
To that end, The Artists Information Company is invaluable as sprawling site of news, reviews and blogs about contemporary art.
I also love the film journal Another Gaze which examines the work of women directors and supports women film critics. When I’m feeling isolated as an artist, I go onto Twitter and follow the #WomensArt hashtag which connects me with the work of amazing visual artists from all eras and countries.
Editor-at-large, Vice UK
Bill Simmons’s fabulously over-resourced Grantland used to be the most anarchic yet carefully curated thing on the net, a place where you had Carles from HipsterRunoff churning out a thousand surrealistic words about the Tour de France. Then ESPN turned off the money hose, and now he has The Ringer, which is still a great grab-bag of meaty pop culture dives but has less of the ring of blank cheques to it.
TrendHunter is still an interesting place to get lost in. It’s an endless rain of gadgets, fads and conceptual architecture.
David Fuller, a former Channel 4 producer, has perked up my eyeballs recently with long form chats with the likes of essayist and technologist Jordan Greenhall.
Popular Twitter account I,Hypocrite offers an excellent weekly video digest of all those talking point news clips that you read about but never got round to watching. In common with many creators, he has become nervy about YouTube’s censorious direction, and fled to grey-net competitor BitChute.
Digg has fallen off most radars in the past decade, but their daily email digest generates more click-throughs from me than anything else. It’s like Buzzfeed for people who haven’t been brain-damaged by the past decade of the internet.
Finally, Reddit/relationship_advice is the need to know place if your significant other is faking a pregnancy, has suddenly discovered scat, or overslept for your granny’s funeral. A classic case of people who shouldn’t be advising anyone advising people whose relationship troubles are so deep they are beyond advice. All together now: “DUMP HIM!”
Radio presenter and journalist
New writing and plays at the Donmar Warehouse and Royal Court. For example – the Donmar’s season on power and the first grime musical at the Royal Court left me fired up and gave me windows into new worlds and struggles.
The Slow Burn podcast by Slate – the luxury of taking a deep dive into an old news story you thought you knew is akin to a long hot soak in a much-needed bath.
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.
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.
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.
Author and headmistress of Michaela Community School
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!
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.
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?
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.
Producer, UnHerd’s Confessions
Anything that does serious financial journalism, from Trump’s trade war to the black market in sand, and puts it in plain English is a godsend. Planet Money does it best. My favourite is #870 on Trump vs Red Tape, which features every regulation Potus has axed since taking office, set to the sound of REM’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It”.
What turned a star NFL Tight End who played in the Super Bowl into a convicted double murderer who hanged himself in his cell? Gladiator, a podcast from the The Boston Globe, is a series which produces more questions than answers. But the tragic story of Aaron Hernandez, of how a troubled background and superstardom can be a toxic mix, is compellingly told. Hernandez once busted someone’s eardrum as a 17-year-old university freshman in a row over a bar tab, only for the charges to be dropped after the university’s lawyers got involved. The lesson: when you’re a star, some actions don’t have consequences.
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.