Media Literacy: Play Niche With Others
In developing one’s craft of media literacy, it’s important to seek out and collect solidly reported, credible, yet highly “niche” news sources. By niche I mean they are way down in the weeds on a specialized topic. They live it, breathe it, follow it – so you don\’t have too. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are small. I hear “Cornstalk”, for issues important to corn growers, has a healthy base. But when an topic comes up that requires vetting through additional sources or to gain a perspective that isn’t available from your current sources, these niches can really fill the gap.
For example, I use longwarjournal.com as my go to source for daily reporting on air strikes and translations of ISIS declarations through Amaq. Recently I was recommended spfhealth.com as a blogger who solely focuses on health related policies. The caveats here are the same as evaluating any news source, just do it twice as much. What that means is that questions of bias and perspective are even more important for an operation that doesn’t have the kind of scrutiny (normally) of a larger operation. This isn\’t to impinge on quality. Some of these niche organizations have been around a long time and have a very high standard of reporting credibility and quality journalism. I advise to stay away from the partisan niche sources. Life is too short to slant your niche reporting with partisan bias when you can already get 500% of your FDA daily recommended allotment just casually scrolling through a feed.
In addition to private news sources there are government “niche” sources that you can add to your craft. These are often agencies or organizations that produce reports which can shed (hopefully) non-partisan objective insights. With these, the typical evaluation is that you want to look for a review of your topic that happened in the past, so it is not as influenced by current events. And it\’s really important to understand the limitations of government reporting organizations – as they all have them. For example CBO can only model what Congress tells it to model, so although it’s transparency of methodology is superior, its actual track record of forecasting is crap. Congress regularly tells CBO to include things everyone, including CBO and Congress, knows, Congress will never do. For example, for over 15 years straight Congress passed an annual waiver of the Medicare expansion on doctor’s fees, yet in every CBO projection these were included as an assumption they would actually be taken.
With all that being said, it appears – and I’m just going out on a limb here – that there is an increased interest in a detailed understanding of what is going on in the Federal government. (I have no idea why.) There is an outer limit to what the regular news sources will be able to cover – even the ones that focus on DC such as WaPo, the Hill, Politico, NY Times etc. In this case having a toolbelt of niche news sources: private and public, is helpful. So without further adieu here’s a partial list of my sources, and what you can use them for.
Keep in mind – niche sources are part of a healthy balanced diet. Don’t give up on your regular news sources and always double and triple source. But you’ll often find perspectives here you won’t be able to get elsewhere.
http://jamiedupree.blog.wsbradio.com/ Probably the single best blogging reporter on the inner workings of Congress I’ve found. The “straight reporter” for Neil Boortz’s conservative libertarian air shows he keeps it to “just the facts mam” like no one else. He also has a lot of insights into the day-to-day life in the Capital and what goes on behind the scenes.
The following four all come from the same group which produces The Atlantic (which is a daughter-ship of the mother ship The Economist) so they are solid. They all have a perspective and bias though to government employees. The articles are written for the benefit of insiders who already understand the basics – so you’ll run into a lot more acronyms and unfamiliar references. Keep google/wiki handy. But if you want to get a good sense what\’s going on inside the bowels of government, these are four ways to peak inside.
http://www.govexec.com/ – Covering employees and managers of the Executive federal agencies
http://www.nextgov.com/ – Perspective more slanted to technology issues in government
http://www.routefifty.com/ – State and local government perspective
http://www.defenseone.com/ – Defense & national security government perspective
Public Niche Sites
https://www.loc.gov/crsinfo/ The Library of Congress has a Congressional Research Service (CRS). This is a tasked-agency which researches specific topics on request of Congress or Congressional-critters. It does not do independently selected research. However their methodology is solid, their citations excellent (you can often get a good reading list from one of their reports) and they have an archive going back decades. For procedural issues of “can a President do this” or “does this clause act this way,” often in the past someone has asked CRS to issue a finding, and that’s a good report to read.
Gao.gov So this is almost the opposite of niche because the Government Accountability Office (GAO) site is a huge repository of information. But the GAO is kind of like the “Agents of Shield” for the US Government. Attached to Congress, they are pretty much the only agency who is allowed to regularly write reports talking about how much the rest of government is terrible at doing their job. However, the GAO can only investigate what it is ordered to investigate by Congress, or by request of a Congressional Committee. They also generally investigate Federal executive agencies and their performance, but have had challenges (due to separation of powers limitations) investigating the White House itself and especially Presidents vs. Vice Presidents. Whereas you’d go to the CRS to look up what was thought on a procedural topic, you might go to GAO to look up past findings of an actual investigation.
https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/circulars Finally, at least for this post, we have the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) Circulars. The OMB is the executive agent that acts as the interface between the White House and the sprawling network of executive agencies. So they provide guidance on how to specifically implement executive orders, they are the gatekeepers of budget activities and the circulars they write are opinions on what Presidents can, and cannot do. Consider the OMB Circulars to be kind of like the President’s version of the CRS. This current website is down because of the transition, but should be back up. Or just google OMB Circulars because they are archived all over. For example here are all of the Clinton era Circulars at the National Archives. https://clinton2.nara.gov/omb/circulars/ Like the CRS, OMB Circulars are a good place to ask “can he really do that?!?”
Well this is just the tip of an ice berg. There’s really no limit to the amount of niche sites you can find. You can always google that weird one-off topic and vet it using your other media literacy tricks. Niche sites can be like tools – there’s an infinite number you can buy. But the more you have the less value the next one will likely be. Focus on quality and filling gaps so that when you break out the tool-belt of Media Literacy for a certain topic, you have the right tools close at hand and don’t have to go digging through a bunch of toolboxes to find them. (Not that I’ve ever done this. Ever.)
What are some of the niche sites you go too? List them in the comments below. But be sure to declare their perspective, bias and intended audience in doing so!