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Net News Is Good News: A Guide to Staying Informed Through Social Media

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Even for the generation that grew up with Google, keeping up with the news online can be tricky. You've got pop-up ads disguised as news articles, hyperpartisan political blogs spouting campaign rhetoric, and more coverage of more kinds of news than ever before. Even if you're savvy enough to steer clear of red herrings and spam, the sheer volume of information available on any given subject is bound to make your head spin. So how do you stay informed about the issues without getting sucked down the proverbial rabbit hole? Fear not! I've got you (somewhat) covered.

But first, let me back up a little bit. In this day and age, knowing how to navigate the interwebs is vital to staying informed. For us 18- to 24-year-olds, the Internet is already our No. 1 source of news, unsurprising given most of us don't own TVs or subscribe to daily newspapers. In fact, more people of all ages are now getting their news from the Internet than from newspapers. And 65 percent of millennials say the web is their primary source of information.

So why aren't we more informed? A 2010 Pew research study found that only 14 percent of respondents under age 30 could correctly identify John Boehner as the incoming Speaker of the House, whereas about half of older adults could do so. Why the knowledge gap? Statistically, older citizens have always outpaced youngsters on political awareness. But maybe it's also due in part to the fact that the Internet, in addition to being our generation's greatest resource, is a totally overwhelming place.

In 2006, then-Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska famously referred to the Internet as a "series of tubes," to the delight of techies and comedians everywhere. But old politicians aren't the only ones who are wary of utilizing the net to its full potential.

Here's the problem as I see it: Most of my friends don't check the news online. Instead, the majority say they find out about major events, like, say, the death of Muammar Gaddafi or the shooting in Aurora, through Facebook. Or they happen to glimpse a headline while accessing their email accounts on Yahoo! or Gmail. This means that most of them aren't actively seeking out news, but rather stumbling upon it by accident in the course of their daily web browsing. That's not to say that social media isn't a powerful tool for spreading information (it most definitely is -- more on that later), but it does suggest a certain level of apathy, a quality with which 20-somethings are, unfortunately, all too often associated.

Part of the problem may be that in the absence of conventional media like cable news or local newspapers, many of us just don't know where to look for news. Or perhaps, with the exception of news junkies like me, we simply aren't that motivated to look. Either way, I think I have a potential solution, and it's easier than you might think.

The truth is, you don't need to radically change your browsing habits to integrate more news into your daily online media diet. You can do it through social media, by subscribing to political figures and journalists on Facebook or following reputable news organizations on Twitter. You can scan the news section on your favorite blogs before redirecting to celebrity gossip or movie reviews. Look at it this way: we already spend hours upon hours each day online; why not use some of that time more productively? It's painless, I promise. Not only will you be able to outsmart your friends and post the most interesting stuff on Facebook, but you'll also have a better idea of how to vote. And if there's one thing our generation desperately needs, it's more voters.

Here's my bottom line for being a well-informed netizen: KStew and RPattz may be calling it quits, but there's also a civil war going on in Syria. If you're well-versed in the former, you should have at least a working knowledge of the latter. Also, when it comes to choosing your news coverage, don't be afraid to search outside your comfort zone. Every once in a while, it's important to poke your head out of the echo chamber and listen to what the other side has to say.

So with all that in mind, I've put together a cursory guide to some of my favorite online news sources and how I access them. The point of this guide is that you don't have to go out of your way to get high-quality news. It's easily accessible through platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, even Pinterest. Since you're reading The Huffington Post, I'll hazard a guess that you probably frequent at least a few of those sites, too. And if you're anything like me, you already spend an embarrassing amount of time on them. It just makes sense to try incorporating a little of what's going on in the world into your various feeds, and it's a great way of tricking yourself into staying informed while killing time at work or before bed.

This list is by no means complete or comprehensive; feel free to add some of your go-to sites in the comments and share what methods of tracking the news work best for you. Most of my recommendations are based on common sense: Twitter is great for headlines, so think wire services and investigative news (incidentally, ProPublica was actually the first online news source to win a Pulitzer Prize). Microblogging platforms like Tumblr lend themselves more naturally to long-form journalism, creative nonfiction and photo essays. You get the idea. And never underestimate the value of Google Alerts and RSS feeds for keeping tabs on specific people, places, topics or combinations thereof. That said, here goes.



Top 5 Sites to Check Regularly

BBC News

The New York Times

The Washington Post

NPR

Al Jazeera and Al Jazeera Stream

Top 5 Sites to Follow on Twitter

The Daily Beast

The Associated Press

Reuters

ProPublica

Mashable

Top 5 Sites to Follow on Tumblr

The Atlantic

Mother Jones

GOOD

The New Yorker

Longreads

Top 5 People to Subscribe to on Facebook:

Nicholas Kristof

Arianna Huffington

Liz Heron

Barack Obama

Mitt Romney

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