Apr 18, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Axios Finish Line: A healthy media diet

Illustration of a brain with sunglasses and headphones

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

There's exponentially more quality news and information available to more people than at any point in history. Yet more people than ever seem baffled by what's real, meaningful and trustworthy.

  • This paradox helps explain everything from tribal politics to general anxiety about the state of America.

Why it matters: Many of you have asked about my media consumption habits. So I want to take a crack at outlining ways you can clean up your news diet so it's safer, healthier, more illuminating.

Disclaimer 1: We built Axios to solve this very problem. But I'll go light on promoting Axios reporters to offer you a fuller, more diverse buffet.

Disclaimer 2: This is my list, influenced by what I often read and what other people I trust turned me on to reading. If you hyperventilate because I picked a partisan source, please chill until you read the whole thing.

Disclaimer 3: This is way more than you need unless you're an untreatable news junkie. But it gives you options.

Let's dig in:

1. Mike Allen's Axios AM newsletter. I promise this is the rare Axios product I will pimp here. But I know nothing in media is read more carefully by more people in power across both parties and all industries. I also think Mike has a magical ability to capture in a clinical way what matters most at a given moment.

2. One big traditional media source. You should follow news — not opinion — from the N.Y. Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post long enough to appraise whether you think they get to the closest approximation of the truth most of the time. They all have lots of reporters on lots of topics. So it's news, not hot takes. One source should meet your needs. A hack: They all have morning newsletters with their best stuff. So just get that and save time.

  • Free options: The websites of CNN, BBC, AP and Reuters, with their vast network of bureaus, are wide open — including video, sophisticated graphics, features, analyses and data dives. If it's big, it's on their sites — free.

3. Individual reporters. Most of my content, especially in politics, comes from reporters I know are super-wired. The truth is, most political reporters aren't that distinctive. So I read every word Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Swan, both of The New York Times, write about former President Trump. And I read everything Alex Thompson, of Axios, and Jeff Stein, of The Washington Post, write about President Biden. If this was all you read, you'd be covered. Narrowing your diet can free up lots of time.

4. Specialists. On every topic, there are super-smart people who are masters of their beats. Find them. Follow them. You could read only Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan, both of Punchbowl, and be a master of Congress. Jessica Lessin, founder and CEO of The Information, can make you tech-industry savvy instantly. Both have free morning newsletters.

  • Want to better understand business? Read Andrew Ross Sorkin's DealBook newsletter, then watch him on CNBC's "Squawk Box." If you want to go even deeper and more nuanced, try Matt Levine's Bloomberg newsletter, Money Stuff.

5. Micro-experts. Find people on social media or in newsletters who have the same screw loose as you do for passion topics. This is content gold. Courtenay Brown and Neil Irwin on the Fed in Axios Macro. Brian Morrissey on the business side of media. Tyler Dunne on the NFL.

6. Bubble-bursters (if you lean left): Democratic-leaning readers can't pretend Trump and MAGA Republicans don't exist, just because they dislike them. Listen to Saurabh Sharma's podcast, "Moment of Truth." Read Chris Buskirk, editor and publisher of American Greatness. Follow Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), a potential VP pick for Trump. (A recent Vance essay.)

  • Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan offers a clear, lyrical understanding of Trump-skeptical, establishment conservatism. Bari Weiss and her relatively new company, The Free Press, capture a new ideological space between Trump and conventional conservatism.

7. Bubble-bursters (if you lean right): Republican-leaning readers need to better understand Biden and contemporary liberalism. Want to know Biden's mind? Watch MSNBC's "Morning Joe." The president himself watches it. His staff is close to Joe, Mika and many of the regulars.

  • Mehdi Hasan, who has launched fast with his Zeteo media company, is an outspoken pro-Palestinian voice capturing the spirit of the new left. Matt Stoller has a fan base for his class-focused economics. Osita Nwanevu, 30, who lives in Baltimore, is a younger voice who writes on American politics and culture from a leftist perspective, with a particular interest in democracy. Rebecca Traister at New York Magazine is influential on abortion and women's rights.

8. Listen up. Podcasts are a magical way to get smarter. I try to listen to "All-In" and "Pivot" every week to better understand the hottest debates in Silicon Valley. You pick up the co-hosts' biases quickly — just factor that into your own filter. If there's someone smart you want to better understand, search their name on Spotify or any podcast platform, and listen to long-form interviews.

  • With the explosion of AI, search Sam Altman and other tech leaders to understand their thinking. I did this with Jonathan Haidt before reading his new book — "The Anxious Generation," about teen mental health — and learned a lot more in less time by hearing skeptical people debate him. I find Dr. Peter Attia's "The Drive" podcast smart, science-based and measured on health and longevity.

What's next: A sane media diet requires not just consuming healthy stuff, but quitting news Doritos.

  • This means stop getting news from any source on social media you're not certain you can trust.
  • Stop reading anything forwarded to you, even by friends, unless you know it's a valid source. Stop sharing stuff you haven't read.
  • Dial back watching cable or online argument — it's rarely illuminating. My 81-year-old parents recently gave up cable news altogether — and said they instantly felt healthier and happier.

💡 Preorder Jim's book, "Just the Good Stuff: No-B.S. Secrets to Success." Bulk discount here.

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