Staying on top of current events has never been easy.
And the internet has, if not exacerbated this difficulty, certainly made the task more overwhelming. This extends beyond fake news. Plenty has been said, truthfully and falsely, about the fake news epidemic. Even if you were to use a reliable news source, something like The New York Times, there are not enough hours in anyone’s day to stay informed about everything going on in the world. Here’s my remedy: National Public Radio.
I’m fully aware of the connotations that being an NPR listener carries: white, middle class, pseudo-intellectual, all-around nerd who thinks that facts about ducks are good conversation starters. This connotation doesn’t really bother me, because in my case, it rings pretty much completely true.
But even if you don’t fit all or any of these traits, I still encourage you to give NPR a try. I have nothing against NPR’s music programs, but I can more personally attest to the benefits of NPR’s news and talk radio programs. I realize this doesn’t sound all that interesting, but it’s a lot easier than it sounds.
Since the beginning of the year, I have used AM 1370, Rochester’s NPR news and talk station, as my alarm clock in the morning. Some mornings I only get 30 seconds of news before I get up and turn it off. Other mornings I get a good five minutes of the world’s events. On some unfortunate mornings, I get a full hour. (To my neighbors, I sincerely apologize.)
With the exception of the times when I only get to hear the intro music before I got up, I almost always feel more informed.
Here’s a kind of embarrassing example. Rep. Louise Slaughter, whose district was based in Rochester, recently died. I’m sorry to say that I did not know who she was until she died. Heartfelt statements of condolence and personal stories were circulating online and in the Campus Times. I was completely out of the loop — I just didn’t have the context. Unlike most instances of unfortunate ignorance on my part, which are usually somewhat explicable due to the geographic location of said events and lack of coverage in the mainstream news media, this literally hit close to home, and yet I knew nothing. Five minutes of NPR from 7:00 to 7:05 a.m. helped me realize just what was so significant about Slaughter’s death and, more importantly, her life.
NPR’s talk programs are also often available in podcast form, and I highly recommend many of them. Terry Gross’ terrific interview show, “Fresh Air,” has been on air from WHYY-FM (Philadelphia’s NPR station) for over 30 years, during which Gross has ably seen her way through interviews with politicians like Hillary Clinton, actors like Bill Hader, musicians like Sharon Jones (in a splendid interview that introduced me to her work about three months before her death), film directors like the notoriously reticent Coen brothers, and has had Bill O’Reilly get angry at a question and walk out in the middle of an interview.
A show that, for a long time, kept me more informed about art was Kurt Anderson’s program, “Studio 360.” An episode that tells the story of “Buffalo” Bill Cody and his influence on entertainment and the American perception of the West changed the way I thought about popular storytelling, and introduced me to a figure that has fascinated me ever since — Sitting Bull.
These are just two of many, many shows that I believe deserve a wider, younger audience. To be fair, “Fresh Air” in particular has a huge following, and “Studio 360” has a prominent spot on New York City’s NPR station. But I have one final piece of advice — don’t be too selective in your listening. If you really want to absorb, I would recommend turning on a station’s stream and just seeing what comes up. You’ll find yourself getting interested in things you never thought you would.