By:
March 25, 2020

Joy Mayer initially put these tips in a Google Doc to share with her own social network. She welcomes additions and suggestions in comments in that document

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by news coverage these days, you’re not alone. There’s so much to know, and so many ways to know it.

In some ways, it’s never been more important that we stay informed — our collective health depends on it. But we also have to pay attention to our stress levels, and to our capacity to take in information.

I encourage you to find a few trusted sources of news, check in with them in ways that work for you, and then step away. This is a guide to help you figure out what those news sources might be for you. Please remember that journalism is expensive to produce and that the information health of our communities is now directly tied to our public health as well. If you’re financially able to subscribe or donate, please do. 

If you’re not already turning to newsletters and podcasts, now is the time. Not unlike print products, they are consumable in one sitting and therefore easier to wrap your head around. You reach the end of them and can then step away. I’ll link to some favorites below.

Journalists, this advice is intended for news consumers. But I hope you consider sharing similar advice with your own audiences. You have an opportunity to help them navigate their information landscapes, and doing so can provide a much-appreciated public service.

Where to look for quality local news

Your local newspaper is likely the best source for information about closures, community needs and how the world right outside your door is changing. Also, check here to see if you have a nonprofit news site covering your area.

Local TV, with a defined beginning and end to each newscast, is a good way to get the highlights of what’s going on in your area. Pick a station that makes you feel well informed. Then choose a time, or a couple of times, to check in with a newscast each day. Then turn it off.

Many public radio newsrooms have been staffing up in recent years. In general, they tend to offer good context, solid reporting and nice storytelling moments without stoking fear. Find your local station here.

Statewide news is really important these days, as the federal government has left so much up to individual state governments to figure out. Find a news source that covers your state really well. For me, the Tampa Bay Times is that source. Their morning newsletter is a valuable roundup, and they have a Facebook group in which they’re posting updates and taking questions.

Identify these local and regional sources. Follow the ones you trust on social media, then tune out or unfollow the others.

Also, this could be a good time to download their apps and consider turning on push alerts. Most news organizations will be livestreaming announcements from state and local officials and push alerts are an easy way to get notified about them. The highlights will be covered in stories and newscasts, but if you watch live you do not have to wait for those to publish or air.

Where to look for quality national news

My go-to way to catch up on national news has been the NPR One app. It always launches into the top headlines of the hour, then it plays stories based on what its editors think are important and what you’ve trained the app to know that you like. You tell it where you live, and it interjects updates from your local public radio station.

There is also The Daily from The New York Times. The podcast has been covering the pandemic from the beginning and offers in-depth perspectives and explanations to help you better understand how this happened and what it means for all of us.

Most online news sources have sections dedicated to the coronavirus these days. Going to those pages at any time is a good way to see what’s new and what you may have missed.

The Washington Post and The New York Times and are both heavily investing in investigating the federal response to the crisis and also in reporting on health and the economy. They put things into context well. They also each have a daily coronavirus newsletter (here’s the Post’s and here’s the Times’). Both publications have also dropped their paywalls on COVID-19 coverage both websites — they typically require a subscription after a certain number of articles but all coronavirus coverage is free, though they may require you to create a free account.

USA Today brings a lot of practical coverage that answers questions about everyday life, nationally and from their huge network of local newspapers. Here’s their coronavirus page and their newsletter. CNN also has a story with live updates that includes the latest details.

If you’re a cable news fan, be aware that the need to fill 24 hours a day always makes things feel new and urgent. If you want to know what elected officials said a few minutes ago or are looking for analysis from people with perspectives to share, this is your place. But, if you’re feeling like “the media” is sensationalizing what’s going on or trying to make you afraid, limit how long you watch and think critically about what shows are on and when you are tuning in. 

For more advice on TV news, I consulted with my Trusting News colleague, Lynn Walsh. Here’s what she wrote:

Some of the shows on cable news stations, like CNN, are designed to have more “talking heads” and opinions than others. Remember, opinions are not bad — just make sure you know you are consuming someone’s opinion rather than straight news.

In the morning hours and around dinnertime (starting at 4 or 5 p.m.) you will have more headlines and news. In the middle of the day and the evening, you have more opinions and personality-driven shows. And remember, they mainly produce content based on East Coast hours.

You also will notice content or stories loop, so after 40 minutes or so, you probably can turn it off and not miss much for four to five hours.

If you want national TV news, tune into a newscast from one of the networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) or from PBS.

All of your national TV news organizations are working overtime to bring you content in their normal shows but also on streaming channels and social media. CBSN, the digital channel and app for CBS, is a favorite and a go-to. You can stream it from Roku, Apple TV, your mobile phone, etc. The programming tends to stick to the headlines and well-produced stories without a lot of “talking heads.”

Right now, because some of their employees testing positive for COVID-19, the stream looks a little different. Their Boston and Los Angeles local stations are helping to fill some of the coverage. I watch for about 30 minutes a couple times a day to get up to speed on what’s going on. If you have it on for more than that, you will see stories loop and repeat.

Now, about fact-checking, which is so important these days: PolitiFact is where I turn first. Here is where they’re collecting coronavirus fact-checks. They check claims made by elected officials, and also rumors, social posts and other claims that are circulating.

How to be a good news consumer

  • If a news story seems unlikely, see if you can corroborate it elsewhere. Do a quick Google search or a search on a news website that you trust.
  • Check the source and know where you’re getting your information. Are they legit? What’s on their “about” page? Can you see evidence of their mission, their ethics and their history?
  • Remember that information is changing quickly, and something you saw last night might no longer be true. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t true when it was reported.
  • Get in touch with journalists — especially local ones. Ask questions. Let them know how they’re doing and what you need from them. Do that on their social media or by looking up an email address or phone number. In general, the larger the news outlet, the less likely you are to get a personal response. But get in touch anyway.
  • Use care in how you talk about journalism and “the media.” There are absolutely unethical and irresponsible actors under the huge media umbrella. But most journalists are driven by a public service mission to keep their communities informed. It feels vitally important to them — and they’re often risking their own health to do it. Please remind your own social networks about that if you have the opportunity. And if you get a chance, thank a journalist.

Joy Mayer is the director of Trusting News, a project that trains journalists to demonstrate credibility and actively earn trust. Her team sends a weekly Trust Tips newsletter, offers free advice to journalists and teaches a free Trust 101 online course. Joy is offering a webinar series in partnership with Poynter, and the topic on April 8 is earning trust with coronavirus coverage. Register free here. Reach her at joy@TrustingNews.org

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Joy Mayer is the director of Trusting News, a project that researches news consumers and then helps journalists earn trust and demonstrate credibility. That work…
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