My two obsessions–travel and news–often go while together. How better to stay up to date on foreign issues than travel to other countries and talk to people about it? Conversations with people in Jordan, Myanmar, and elsewhere have informed me more than any 24-hour news station in the US ever could. It’s also useful to gain a foreign perspective on American events. Al Jazeera or the BBC cover DC politics differently than CNN, and it’s interesting to see how certain events and issues are perceived in other countries.
We are, after all, isolated from much of the world by two very big oceans, and perspective is always a good thing.
But when it comes to American politics, especially if you want to know every insidery detail like I do, it’s harder to get the same level of coverage outside of the US. Of course. Why would anyone in the rest of the world care about the minutiae of our elections? They don’t, and they shouldn’t. But I do, and should, and I think you should too, because it’s based on all those details that we vote and change the country. Down ballot elections, for example, are rarely covered by foreign news stations or papers, but are more important in the day-to-day life of an American citizen than the presidential election. So it’s important that we keep up. And fun! At least for me, because I have a slew of podcasts and email newsletters I’m addicted to that keep me up-to-date while I’m on the road.
The Slate Political Gabfest – This is by far my favorite podcast on the list. John Dickerson of Face the Nation, Emily Bazelon of Slate and the New York Times Magazine, and David Plotz of Atlas Obscura debate the news of the week. They take on three topics per episode, with a fun ‘cocktail chatter’ section at the end. The hosts are each brilliant in their own ways, and Plotz gears questions to Bazelon (legal) and Dickerson (politics) according to their expertise. The best part is hearing them bicker like siblings, which usually turns into intelligent debate. I’ve learned a lot about the Supreme Court and behind the scenes politics from this podcast, and always laugh at least once while listening. Stephen Colbert did call it a “must listen” after all. They do live shows sometimes and if you’re able to make it to one, go and send me a photo! I’m still hoping they come to Chicago sometime soon…
The Axe Files – David Axelrod, former Chief Strategist for the Obama campaigns and founder and director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, interviews key political figures on his podcast. Because he and whoever he’s interviewing have usually been in the business for awhile, they bring up stories of the past while discussing current issues. Favorite recent episodes include Maureen Dowd (where I learned about some funny mishaps of journalism pre-computers) and Lin Manuel Miranda (where it was further established just how amazing this man is).
Keeping It 1600 – If you don’t like Obama, you won’t like this podcast. If you love him, you’ll be obsessed with it. Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor , all former aides to President Obama, discuss everything you need to know leading up to the election. They don’t pretend to be objective, and that’s the fun. They tell all sorts of stories about their time leading up to Obama’s win and in the White House, and laugh with scorn at the latest Trump antics. It’s not a very organized podcast, more like listening to four friends who happen to be very funny and happen to know a lot about politics talk over beers. So basically, it’s fantastic.
The Skimm – The Skimm makes news fast and fun for busy women on the go. Men too, but the references to Taylor Swift, Beyonce lyrics, millennial women stereotypes, and the Supremes might be lost on them. They say they “make it easier to be smarter.” While I don’t think it’s a comprehensive news source, it is a good roundup of the most important news of the day. Usually mixing politics and a few other categories. And it’s hilarious. Sign up here.
Daily Chatter – Daily Chatter “delivers the world in 2 minutes.” You have to subscribe ($12/year), but it’s the most international of the newsletters on this list. They provide a pretty thorough analysis of issues from Cambodia to Mexico, packing a lot in a short email and covering regions often ignored in other newsletters. It’s $1/month, making it an obvious choice for me.
Politico Playbook – This is my favorite daily newsletter hands down. Reading it, you will feel like you live in DC and learn the names of behind the scenes players you probably don’t really need to know. You’ll also learn their birthdays. The newsletter takes you through what’s driving the day in politics, then moves into longer feature stories and analysis. The first part is summarized well and can be read without clicking the links, but I usually click on the longer stories and save them to read later on. The best political tweets and photos of the day are sprinkled throughout. The last third of the email is birthdays, engagements, baby announcements, and more for those on the Hill. It’s full of inside jokes and weirdly addicting. Mike Allen, the mastermind behind the original Playbook, no longer curates it, but you can read about his original intentions here.
Twitter – Isn’t this how most people read the news? It’s not my favorite social media platform to be honest, but I concede it is a good place to get an overview of what people are talking about.
Instagram – Not the best way to get news, but if you follow photographers on assignment for big papers you’ll get a behind the scenes, and often sobering, look at life in war and conflict, on the campaign trail, etc.
News Apps – I have the NYT, NPR, BBC, and CNN apps on my phone, and sign up for news alerts on all of them. They all send the same things, but I like seeing who sends it out first and how they word it. These alerts are often the first way I hear about something (recent earthquakes in Italy, for example), and if I’m interested I’ll actually open the app and learn more. I especially like them for big sports updates, because I am not a sports fan and would never look up any scores myself, and would have walked through Chicago this morning having no idea the Cubs won last night. Thanks NPR! Now I don’t have to look like an idiot when everyone is talking about sports, which for unfortunately is a cultural phenomenon I can’t make go away.
Of course, I think it’s important to stay informed on ALL news around the world, not just what’s happening in the US. But as we’re heading to the polls in a week I decided to focus mostly on politics for this post. Some more international options coming soon. Anything you would add?