Wednesday, June 27, 2012

News Junkie

I LOVE being informed.
As a student of International Politics, that should come as no surprise. What might, though, is that despite that love I have a very on-and-off approach to actually staying informed. I guess this comes as the unlucky consequence of two facts: there is an unlimited amount of information available - and too little time in my day to process it. 
My first experiences with the news started in Switzerland, where when reading the local newspaper you could be lucky to find a page and a half covering global occurrences. The rest was dedicated to the really important things in life - which village had a fundraiser when, the most recent local scandal and an interview with a moderately famous cheese maker from the vicinity. Thus, I found myself already proud of my achievements if I listened to the radio or occasionally scanned the headlines of the big newspapers at the kiosk. 
A rude awakening awaited me when starting as a fresh-faced U0-student at McGill. I vividly remember sitting in my first lecture of "Intro to International Relations" when the prof said "So, I assume you have all followed the war this summer in depth..." I was dumbfounded. I had no idea what he was speaking about. Granted, I had just moved continents, but the fact that I had missed an interstate war because I was unpacking boxes (it was the stint between Russia and Georgia, by the way) was unacceptable for me. I swiftly proceeding to signing up for a daily Globe and Mail delivery to my doorstep - and spent the rest of the year struggling to get through at least half of the thick wad of paper clogging up our entrance every morning. 
This valiant, but always somewhat quixotic effort to keep up with what was happening everywhere at all times continued throughout my university career. The thing about studying international relations is that there is barely any information that is not relevant or interesting to you and so suddenly you get sucked into reading a 5 - part expose about the weapons Russia is allegedly delivering to Syria and found yourself late for work yet again, but yet have only read one out of the gazillion articles on your to-do list.
I am not sure that I have found the answer to this challenge quite yet, but technology does make it easier to stay on top of things. Two tips for those overwhelmed by information too - 
  • Google Reader lets you subscribe to the RSS feeds of all major news websites. It is a little arbitrary which articles are featured, but in essence, you open one page and the latest articles from as many news sources as you feel like are at your fingertips! Plus you can set Google news alerts to key words (I have done that with "food security" and "right to food", for example). I love it for an overview of news from various viewpoints and regional concentrations - Right now I am subscribed to the New York Times World news (plus their Fitness and Nutrition section), Le Monde Diplomatique, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Al Jazeera English, the Economist, and Foreign Policy (from time to time I add or delete some; for example, I found myself always skipping the regular Le Monde articles and thus did away with them.)
  • Podcasts are the best thing ever invented. Ever since John introduced me to This American Life and Stuff You Should Know, I have loved listening to these and other podcasts - on my commute, on a walk, when cleaning, the possibilities are endless! For news, the BBC World Service Global News podcast updates twice a day and gives a great overview of worldwide current topics. I also just found that the German ARD Tagesschau has both audio and video podcasts available.
Do I still find myself fighting a losing battle in the quest for absolute knowledge? Absolutely. But at least now that I make a dent in my reading and listening to news every day, I won't simply overlook another war - let's hope so at least. 

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