I suppose I should be ashamed to admit this, but for me Facebook is also a major source of news. But I do not apologize for that, because I have a few friends who can be counted on to post on Facebook whenever something important is happening in the world. I know from life-long experience that mainlining the news is bad for my mental health.
Is Facebook the best or only tool for this use?
These particular friends can usually be counted on for two very important benefits: (1) each brings a different background and point of view to the table; (2) in addition to the news that makes headlines, they often alert me to news that would be lucky to make two inches on page 32 but which is of interest to me; and (3) they present the news with far less stress-inducing drama than most mainstream media. I know of no other site that does such an excellent job of curating my news.
Many years ago, when I lived in Rochester, a good friend would call me on the phone nearly every day, and we'd chat for ages. (Those were the days when the phone was on the wall in the kitchen, and we invested in a 25-foot phone cord so that I could work and talk at the same time.) At the same time, we were trying to drastically reduce the time we spent watching television. To the concern that we would miss something important by not watching the evening news, I would reply, "If it's really important, I'll learn about it from Pam tomorrow."
If I were to give up my Facebook news sources, what could substitute? Given that all news reporting is biased, as newscaster Peter Jennings famously warned more than 15 years ago, that means—as it does with all history studies—a single source is never sufficient. And consulting multiple sources with the same bias doesn't count.
I'm sorry to say that our local newspaper is out. I want to be able to support local, physical papers, but it was decades ago that ours started giving less for more: the space devoted to text steadily shrank, replaced by pictures that definintely were not worth a thousand words. The stories themselves veered away from meat toward fluff. Editing and proofreading efforts declined drastically, perhaps through costcutting measures and/or the need to beat the Internet with a news story. Worst of all was the blurring of the line between news and editorials. We cancelled our subscription when the Orlando Sentinel started to look like USA Today, and haven't been back since, except for responding a couple of times to "an offer you can't refuse"—which never succeeded in convincing us to keep the subscription when it ran out.
Television news has gone all out in the Adrenalin Wars: presenting the news at fever pitch to maximize excitement, fear, and even panic, for the purpose of keeping customers glued to their shows and money pouring in. "Public" television is very nearly as bad—they, too, have customers and sponsors. And all the while each network strongly promotes its own point of view. For the sake of my mental health I don't want the hype; for the sake of my spiritual health I don't want the bias. Watching news shows on more than one network may somewhat balance the bias, but it doubles the hype.
One site that was suggested to me is allsides.com, which attempts to bring together news stories from the Left, from the Right, and from the Center, using criteria it has set up for determining the bias of a news organization. I've bookmarked the site as potentially quite useful. It is frustrating to come across an interesting story and feel that I can't share it, because if the source is a left-leaning site half my friends won't trust it, and if it's a right-leaning site the other half will reject it unread. Allsides.com might at least help me find the same story in different places.
But Allsides is still too much in-your-face with the news for frequent use. The same is true of Google News, which used to be helpful but is much less so since they stopped letting me specify what kinds of stories interest me and now enforce Google Knows Best. In my case, Google Is Usually Wrong. I need to do more research here.
Porter subscribes to the BBC News feed, which seems to do a pretty good job of covering the world. It takes up a lot of his time, however, so I'm just as happy to take it second-hand.
Some well-known and intelligent person once said that he never paid attention to daily, or even weekly news. Only if something was still newsworthy after a month did he bother about it. I think it was Peter Drucker, or someone he wrote about, in Adventures of a Bystander, but I'm still trying to hunt down the exact story and attribution. For all but a few news items (e.g. an approaching hurricane), that sounds like a sane and sustainable philosophy. Being inundated with news—usually tragic—from every corner of the country and the world is exhausting and debilitating. I don't want to stick my head in the sand, but the value of receiving bad news lies in being moved to good and useful action. Otherwise it just cripples us.
My friend Pam and I once lived across a small hallway from each other. Now we are more than 2000 miles apart. But she is still one of my reliable news sources, and Facebook is now that 25-foot long telephone cord. Hour-long phone conversations no longer work for either of us. Facebook really is a good way to reach many people in a very short time. The question is how to maximize benefits and minimize costs.
I have some ideas to try out. Stay tuned.