Back in 2016, during the height of the presidential campaign, I decided that when the election was over and Hillary Clinton was waiting to become president, I would engage in more responsible news media consumption. My mind actually used the word “responsible”, and this brought up a very significant question of what it means to consume news media responsibly. I have never quite answered this question to my own full satisfaction but I came up with a few principles of how I could engage news media responsibly:
- Spend less time on the daily sordid soap opera of national politics and more time on important matters that are not so easily accessed
- Make room in my own personal market for voices unlike my own, such as women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and millenials
- Engage in deep dives into non sensational but important issues
- Include the arts in my consumption habits
- Keep an eye on news sources and avoid outlets that do not have an established reputation for honesty and fairness
The events of November 7, 2016, scoffed at my goals and made it next to impossible to avoid tuning in to the daily soap opera, which is soapier now than it ever has been before. The Administration’s scandals and drama suck up all the oxygen and leave little room for anything else. This has nearly obliterated my efforts on the first principle listed above and has interfered with the other goals of consuming news responsibly.
In this environment the New York Times regular podcast “The Daily”, hosted by Michael Barbaro, has emerged as a high quality, and yes “responsible” source of news and commentary. Delivered in roughly 20 minute daily episodes available for download at about 5:00am central time on weekdays, “The Daily” usually provides a detailed run down of whatever was the most significant event of the previous day, often with a sharp interview with a journalist who covered the event in detail or with a policy expert who knows the relevant field. Its segments that amount to daily news briefs provide a level of depth of analysis rarely seen in a basic news round up. Michael Barbaro assumes you already have seen the major headlines, which allows him to spend more of his limited time going beyond the surface. As an example, on August 18, 2017, when the story of neo-Nazis marching on Charlottesville was beginning to die down as there were no new developments, Michael Barbaro devoted a broadcast of The Daily to discussing how white supremacists organize their actions through a relatively obscure social media platform for video gamers. Later, it had a double-length episode featuring a compelling interview of a young man who grew up in a family of white supremacist leaders before he left the movement while in college. In an era where emergencies seem to be piling one on top of another at an alarmingly frequent rate, this willingness to spend time going deeper is an essential service. These episodes are first rate, professionally done, and will catch the listener up on the most important current news without simply repeating what you could see on Twitter.
The Daily does not stop there though, and this is what sets The Daily apart from other regular morning news podcasts. Every so often The Daily makes room for a more detailed exploration of a topic that is not part of the daily sudsy political drama. For example, on Friday, August 11, 2017, immediately before a bunch of neo-Nazis marched on Charlottesville, Michael Barbaro spent the morning talking about Weight Watchers trying to adjust to a changing market that eschews quick weight-loss schemes and embraces whole body health. It was fascinating, and didn’t mention Donald Trump once.
The previous day, Michael Barbaro interviewed William Perry, the Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton to discuss North Korea. Another episode earlier that week talked about one of my personal big issues: prosecutorial misconduct leading to a possibly innocent person going to prison.
It was a relatively slow news week until the Nazis showed up but “The Daily” still delivered high quality episodes. In the short time The Daily has been produced, it has made a number of episodes like these, interspersed between more urgent news reports. This has been a surprise fit within my efforts to be more responsible in my media consumption. While a daily news show can’t help but engage with the political soap opera, The Daily makes a point of occasionally disengaging and seeking out the harder to find stories. I have found this to be an invaluable service, reminding me of my own aspirations.
The typical 20 minute episode is short enough to be accessible to most anyone. I usually listen to it when I’m getting ready for work in the morning. When the weekend comes, I miss having it as part of my morning routine. I guess Michael Barbaro needs some time off too.