I listen to NPR's hourly updates 2 to 3 times per day via Stitcher, then I also read NPR's website on occasion. Aside from NPR I find it hard to find an unbiased news source.
There is no unbiased news. You must read between the lines, corroborate and reconcile different accounts, and generally think in order to piece together a picture of an event, even with reputable sources, because even reputable sources are really just a big organization that sent a reporter somewhere.
In fact, the reality is even worse: many topics of news have no singular "truth" to them. As soon as a reporter ceases to be strictly recollective, news becomes an editorial affair -- and that's ok, so long as people recognize it as such. The problem is that few people are equipped to make that distinction.
Most people never learn to take a piece of writing and tear it apart critically. It's a skill that requires time and practice to acquire. Without it, people conflate the hard news and the subjective bits. Quality journalism should include a mix of hard news and analysis, but the news market today sells to the lowest common denominator, who generally want a simple narrative in 500 words or less. This leaves little room for the ambiguity of the real world.
I constantly question what I read because of my experience with reporting about Israel, and I often think about how little I really know when reading about other places and stories that lack a neat narratives.
After reading Seth Godin's "All Marketers are Liars", I've come to the realization that there is not truth, not in the sense people mean when they say "unbiased". Everything worth saying has a marketing spin. Everything people say to you goes through layers of previous beliefs. There is not such thing as "just the facts".
It's not even hard to "prove": take any reasonably controversial story that happened recently. The initial story already shows you what most people believe based on their first reactions. Any new piece of evidence that comes out doesn't have any effect on which side of the issue people are on: the "fact" is always somehow a proof that they are right. I've seen this happen very often, and yet people still seem to think that it's all facts.
Most news, though, deals with with humans, humans' interactions, and so on. You can never know what other people are thinking or feeling when they do something, and oftentimes they themselves don't even know.
If you want to see how bad most reporting is, just see how bad it is in fields you understand. Most reporting about the computer industry is terrible. Just as one funny example of a "fact" by an expert (and ironic who I'm writing this to), pg's article on PR has a footnote about how the damages figure for the Morris worm was calculated.
Great read in any case, which sorta makes some of the same points: http://www.paulgraham.com/submarine.html.
I think it's awesome that usernames are so de-emphasized in HN that one can respond directly to a comment by the site's creator without realizing it (or perhaps you did realize, but deliberately chose to use the third person). Though HN obviously has reputation built in with karma and well-known members with well-deserved notoriety, it's very easy to ignore names and evaluate posts solely on their merits. I believe this can be a useful tool when implementing the suggestion of others to consider aggregated information from multiple sources.
 Will grammarians one day create formal rules for forum posts?
In my experience, though, it's best to use a large but manageable number of sources and interpret them with intelligence and wisdom to get a feel for what the reality is.
If you're familiar with their articles, you've probably seen a pattern where articles of ~4 paragraphs come up on the site when a breaking news occurs. You get the sense that they're only concerned with speed rather than accuracy - contents in those 4 paragraphs will change throughout the day, while they'll add about 10 more paragraphs containing some background information and/or interviews. So unless you don't read the "finished version," it's likely that you didn't read the most accurate information.
The way the BBC writers work gives them hardly any time to check facts as well. They're expected to write news tickers, e-mail the news desk about newly written stories, and make a post on Ceefax service as well (hence the 4-paragraph rule). Then they are also expected to harmonize their articles with news from other BBC outlets (e.g. BBC Radio services, BBC News Channel, etc.) so the writers multi-task and constantly have to keep an eye on those services.
If your goal is get a clear understanding of how the world works, I'd recommend you transition away from current events news and into reading history. Current events gives equal time, sometimes greater time, to people that are incredibly stupid and will be thoroughly discredited in a short time. If you were about the War on Drugs in the 1980s, you were getting some now-discredited nonsense. You would've been much better informed and able to predict outcomes by reading up on Prohibition in the USA or what happens during any era with a ban on a desired product.
History repeats itself - bans and prohibitions pretty much always go the same way. Black markets emerge to deliver the goods if they're desired, this increases the price of the good and makes it lucrative. But disagreements in this lucrative trade can't be arbitrated in court because the trade is illegal. Thus, disputes are settled by violence. The need for enforcers, arms, and protection outside of the law is conducive to gradually centralizing gangs, cartels, mafia, and other organized crime. This is pretty much always the way with prohibitions on desired goods throughout history - and you could easily predict that if you study history, but it's far too easy to get distracted by charismatic talking points in a debate over current events.
If you want to learn about the American financial crisis, you'd do well to learn about banking crises throughout history. If you want to learn about public education, you could do worse than starting to learn about the Prussian education system.
I've found much more insight in looking back at largely resolved things than trying to sort through the mess of what's going on. Then when I find myself out at dinner and it comes up, I can say something like, "Well, at XYZ time in Japan they did ZYX, and the result was ABC. Do you think that will happen with this policy in America?" Thus, you're useful to the discussion because instead of rehashing one of the two mainstream viewpoints you can get on the news, you introduce new facts, and you'll inevitably hear about the mainstream viewpoints during conversation, debate, and discussion anyways. History isn't as sexy or charged as mainstream news, but you wind up becoming much better informed in the end, and you'll most likely still pick up the main viewpoints of events as they unfold.
I'd found that too much of what I was seeing was simply irrelevant and it either frustrated me or pissed me off.
Since that point, research into the influence of PR/publicity companies on local news showed that our primary newspaper in South Australia was comprised of 30% content pushed by PR/publicity. The online versions of the main paper here have devolved into eye-ball seeking trash - bikini galleries, celebrity gossip, etc.
Through this experience I've learnt how little I really miss. 99% of what's going on just doesn't need to be known.
I check Al Jazeera English once or twice a week and CNN a little less often. Other than that, I feel like I've saved some time and cleared my head a little (especially of some of the negativity that comes from news).
I do listen to a local radio talk show once in awhile to get an overview of what's happening in my state and sometimes the country. I've been meaning to watch Al Jazeera English more. I've enjoyed it whenever I've watched it.
Occasionally there's a story there that I find interesting but often it's enough to skim the front page.
If you choose not to be informed, it's really irresponsible to inflict your opinion on others via the voting booth.
If there's a law against a blank ballot AND write-ins are disallowed, you live in a sham democracy where an elite wants to legally compel you to signify your assent to its illegitimate rule, and it is your democratic duty to boycott any such elections in order to highlight their illegitimacy.
Technically, you're only required to attend a polling station and get your name crossed off.
My mother once wrote "I think compulsory democracy is a contradiction in terms". They fined her.
"I check Al Jazeera English once or twice a week and CNN a little less often."
I think that's more than enough to stay up on current issues.
Pretty sure I don't need to see the latest set of bikini shots News Ltd has stolen from Google Images because some celebrity tweeted about something mundane to stay abreast of the real things that matter.
Think of what I tried to explain as removing some junk food from the diet - or driving through backstreets to avoid the roads they're on!
I'd guess that my media-light diet might have me more informed than many out there who'll read whatever catches their instinct-driven fancy, do you agree?
See, what most news channels do (TV, newspaper, web) is to strive to alarm you. NPR stories about central american coups, financial press predictions of doom with taxation proposals, valley press warning of the upcoming total shortage of venture capitol, bloggers warning of the impending death of microsoft, prince predicting (hoping?) for the death of the internet itself.
When we talk about bias, we are more likely to think left-leaning vs right-leaning vs libertarian. Let me suggest another way of looking at this.
Are you looking for a source of news whose thrust is to alarm you? I claim that is the common bias shared by most news sources.
So I suggest this simple experiment. As you listen to a newscast/blogger podcast/tv broadcast or read a blogger post/newspaper/news.google.com/news.combinator.com ask yourself "is this story informing or alarming".
Then check out utne.com or the Christian Science Monitor.
Better yet is to read several, or none at all.
Who is it that said "if the information is important, it will find me"?
This is something that I don't think is well understood: the most broken component of most news organizations is the editing. News editors tend to be...not smart. They don't have nearly enough subject matter expertise to make intelligent decisions about how to asses factual claims in articles or how to put the news in context. If I want to read about economics, I know for a fact that any econ blogger on the planet knows a hell of a lot more than 98% of newspaper editors. What's far worse is how news organizations present politics; they behave as if political science doesn't exist. Everything is explained in terms of fictional narratives that often contradict polling while ignoring fundamentals. Reading news articles about politics makes you more ignorant, not less.
For example, I read Lawyers Guns and Money ( lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/ ) and when, say, a war in Georgia breaks out or a South Korean warship sinks, I know about because the LGM guys write posts with links to news sources. But since some of them are security studies professors who specialize in international relations and global security, I get the added context to make sense of it.
So pick some subjects that interest you, find some subject matter experts with blogs and toss them into an RSS reader. The result will be better than any newspaper and you'll still get notified when an "important" article gets published in the NYT or WAPO or LAT or WSJ or anywhere else.
* Lawyers Guns and Money, global conflict, international relations, political science, some legal history: http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/
* The Monkey Cage, real political science by political scientists: http://www.themonkeycage.org/
* The Edge of the American West, mostly history professors but some philosophers too, but less academic than Crooked Timber: http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/
* Brad Delong, econ prof at UC Berkley; strong focus on economic history; leans left: http://delong.typepad.com/
* Tyler Cowen, econ prof at GMU, leans right: http://www.marginalrevolution.com/
* Marc Lynch, foreign affairs prof who talks about the middle east; unlike pretty much every middle east expert, he actually speaks Arabic and has some idea about what actual Arabs are talking about: http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/
* Matthew Yglesias, foreign policy, some economics and politics: http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/
* Ezra Klein, health care and economic policy: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/
* Felix Salmon, a former bond trader who talks about finance: http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/
* Julian Sanchez, national security law, background in philosophy, leans right (but not in terms of national security): http://www.juliansanchez.com/
* Ryan Avent, who also writes for the Economist but his personal site is more focused on urban planning and transportation economics, especially with regards to climate change mitigation: http://www.ryanavent.com/blog/
* Brad Plumer, environment and climate change: http://www.tnr.com/blogs/the-vine
* Cosma Shalizi, statistics, social science that uses statistics, lots of book reviews: http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/
Also, here are two sites I use to find random long form articles to read on my Kindle using Instapaper. These are more hit or miss but they cover a much broader range. These sources won't tell you about hot news stories per se, but if there's some weird NYT Magazine article that everyone is talking about, you'll find it here.
The Browser: http://thebrowser.com/
Long Form: http://longform.org/
As far as ideologies go, that's a whole lot better than Stalinism, but I personally aspire to higher standards. Nevertheless, it is a very commonly held set of ideological priors, especially among the tote bag set (i.e., the group of people that regularly donate to NPR/PBS and thus got an NPR/PBS tote bag). Just because their ideological priors mostly match up with yours doesn't make them "unbiased".
That said, I hear what their spokesperson said, but this sort of thing would never fly at most news organizations in the US.
If what you want to do is get information without an overt bias, then yes, NPR is fairly good. Others have recommended The Economist, I second that. I would recommend getting your news from a variety of sources (preferably not American-centric, if you wish to hear international news).
I tend to lean heavily on NPR, The Economist, and the NY Times (the last two are seriously contradictory, but I find that to be useful). I have heard good things about The Atlantic, although I cannot vouch for it myself.
In my opinion, those are the three most journalistic institutions remaining - they report the facts as cleanly as humanly possible.
Well, come on, reply saying you didn't say "jews" and comparing Israelis to Nazis is legitimate. Except it isn't.
Or maybe you'll deny you compared them, and say it was purely an example of how being anti-X doesn't prove bias. But I didn't say being anti-X indicates bias for all X. I said taking a strong anti-Israel stand on a controversial topic does not constitute unbiased reporting. See the difference? You said opposing uncontroversially bad things is legitimate. But either you missed the point or you think Jews are uncontroversially bad.
My view on bias ignoring my personal view: "I didn't say being anti-X indicates bias for all X" - just being anti-Israeli indicates a bias against Israel? Seems you're being biased against the coverage because you're pro-Israel to me...
There is such a thing as "just the facts".
Although it's pretty harmless here, it can make a difference when you talk about bigger things, like unemployment. Fox News might be apt to stress the fact that X Million Americans are unemployed this quarter, whereas NPR might note that unemployment rates are down Y%.
They're both true, and plain facts. Yet, highly biased. Even if you state both, you're ignoring other, larger factors. Did a government program start/expire? Did a set of large companies undergo layoffs? Etc.
So theoretically, if you read enough (true) information, you don't have to worry about bias. (Very hard to do practically)
(I guess we could say that there's a bias in favor of good sports news and against good political news.)
When trying to look for unbiased news, it's useful to see what the filters actually are, and the basic business model of media corporations. Prof Bob McChesney is knowledgeable, and even has a radio program about it. http://www.robertmcchesney.com/
The typical analysis is that the business press often has the best coverage, as they need a tolerable view of the world. For example, at least pre-Murdoch (I don't what people think now), the Wall St Journal was considered by critics to be be informative, aside from the over-the-top editorials. And in the New York Times, they recommend you read the articles starting from the ends (rather from the beginning), as editorial filters are loosest there.
The usual recommendation is not to worry so much about "biased news", and instead consume media with an awareness of the biases.
Otherwise, seeing "Netherlands:0, Spain:1" on a headline is a biased news. I can see it as noise (non-important entertainment massively supported by ads I'm paying against my will in products I buy) taking my time and thus hiding more important things happening in the world (and insightful analysis of them) or around me I should care and do something about.
I think British culture is close enough to US culture to do a great job capturing the subtleties of American politics; at the same time they remain less biased since, for the most part, they don't have a horse in the race.
BTW: I also find that while they do try to remain unbiased, NPR slants a little more to the left than the right,
I ultimately agree that this is a much better place to be in than trying to publish irrational but "unbiased" news, however.
All professional new outlets have sponsors, and so they are biased. NPR for example, has shows sponsored by Monsanto, GE, and Archer Daniels Midland - so good luck avoiding bias!
That said I don't really read much news but I prefer Al Jazeera English and the BBC.
The Economist has a decent survey of what's important to different peoples around the world, but I try to keep in mind that a page or two of commentary often doesn't capture all the nuances of a local situation. Other times I just scan the front page of Google News.
All news is biased. Just choosing the verbs and nouns in a news report makes it so. Things I try to avoid these days are outright dishonesty, unfair judgement (different standards when judging Party A vs Party B), and hidden agendas. Having a value system is alright if you are honest and forthright about it.
Um, what? Daily Show interviews tend to be awful. Most of them are random book authors hawking their latest book or actors hawking their latest film. Stewart often acts like an attention-starved puppy. When he decides to actually confront his guests, things often go badly because he's so unprepared. Did you see his interview with John Yoo? Yoo wiped the floor with him. Did you see how he sucked up to Musharraf? I mean, when you have a dictator on your show, you can at least ask one or two challenging questions.
I try to follow +just enough+ people that infuriate me from time to time - just to challenge my own well established biases.
As for where to go I agree with the other comments. There is no unbiased news. I say check both. Add Fox News to your NPR habit and you should be fine.
I agree there's no one source for unbiased news -- you have to read/listen to a lot of sources and examine critically.
BTW, I think people have forgotten what a "liberal" looks like if Olbermann is held up as the extreme of the left wing. Remember, America is in the middle of recovering from one of the most severe ideological swings in recent memory, and so things that previously were center or even slightly right-wing are now seen as being extremely liberal. For instance, Obama's health plan is extremely similar to that proposed by the Republicans in the mid 1990s. Point being, bias can be seen relative to the zeitgeist, from which view MSNBC etc can be seen to attempt to steer conversation rightwards by making issues such as "deficit reduction" more discussed than issues such as "unemployment." Olbermann and Maddow spend much of their time defending their own views, and rarely set the tone of the conversation.
It also bears mentioning that the status quo before Obama's health care plan was, for the most part, proposed and enacted by leftist Democrats over the past several decades, and the maintenance of those systems has been seen as right-wing or centrist when their creation in the first place came from the left. The few actual right-wing reforms to health care (such as the HSA) are in fact weakened by Obama's reforms.
...okay, yeah, I don't get why NPR is in there, either.
* As surely as a non-American who just samples a lot of American media could say, at least.
[edited: I guess that came out wrong... not intended to slag off NPR. Or are people just sensitive about HuffPo?]
Certainly, sample some of it from time to time, to get a feel for what people are consuming, but there are more sensible options. For example, here in Australia I read a mix of The Age (moderate left bias) and the Australian (moderate right bias), and also sometimes the Australian Financial Review (surprisingly centrist, pleasantly free of sensationalism).
Also, the 'Living' section is full of quackery, with amazing articles like this one about how having an enema would protect you from Swine Flu: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kim-evans/swine-flu-protect-yo...
Again, in my opinion, NPR <i>leans</i> left. Fox news <i>leans</i> right. And if you want to watch the NEWS programming on Fox, then it is usually accurate as opposed to the OPINION programming on Fox like Glen Beck and O'Reilly.
Surprisingly enough, the most worldly, unbiased, informed and thorough daily news sources are the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, both of them use some combination of pay-for-service access - which changes regularly as the newspaper industry figures it out. They're both very close to centered, although the editorial boards lean left and right respectively. The big difference, however, is that both also give voice to dissenting opinions (where appropriate - on the OPINION pages) and publish well-thought-out, if contrary, letters to the editor.
Some of the other commenters are right - you need to take a look at multiple sources and discern for yourself not only where they sit on the political spectrum, but also the percentage of news to bullshit each chooses to publish.
If you think NBC is far-left then you probably don't understand the left.
Far to the left is Socialist Worker. MSNBC is basically a mish-mash of bog-standard (American) liberal populists and analysts.
This is mostly new for MSNBC, because in 2001-2004, MSNBC was one of the biggest boosters of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, with Scarborough and Carlson headlining the prime-time opinion shows. As soon as the American public lost interest in the culture war and turned against interventionist foreign policy, they started staffing up liberals.
I also disagree with FT Op-Ed leaning left. Being a socially-permissive capitalist doesn't make you a lefty.
i remember once comparing a NYT's article on apple's earnings a little while back. one had to skip past the 10th paragraph to actually discover what their EPS was and by how much they beat expectations. those figures would never be found past the first sentence on a bloomberg piece.
in general i consider it safe to read articles with goggles that filter any hint of an opinion provided by the author. i look for the numbers and the facts, the rest is just noise.
That said, I recently started reading the New York Post. There's something to be said about a really trashy, tabloid take on the news.
if you want to learn about what is happening in the world, you could do worse than start at the forums of media watch sites such as http://medialens.org (for uk-centered media monitoring) or http://fair.org (for us-centered media monitoring). from there, you can refer to the original articles in the mass media and contemplate on the validity of the criticism by the media watchers.
that way, you incorporate a critical view on the news medium right from the moment you read the news.
The New York Times, on the other hand is very much a left-leaning publication... I read it during the Bush years, and I am planning on reading more NYTimes, come November ;)
Edit: Oh yeah, forget about TV as a source of unbiased news... It's far better to go to the papers for your news :)
These days if you want good daily business reporting the Financial Times is really the only choice you have.
Initially, I got the impression that opinion writers at the Journal seem to have a 'no-tax' fetish... But then, it appears that many other publications are joining the Journal in insisting on making the Bush-era tax income tax brackets permanent, because all of them are of the opinion that this is essentially a pretty good stimulus policy, considering that the other forms of stimulus show no signs of improving the miserable jobs numbers.
Arguing that the Journal has gone down the toilet since Murdoch bought it is a specious argument, and I would think that it is essentially an ad-hominem attack against Murdoch. Murdoch also owns the Fox serials like Family Guy, which has a blatantly far-left viewpoint and doesn't shy away from showing it... So McFarlane and co. routinely get the question, ' How can you work for Murdoch who also owns the 'fair and balanced' fox news?', to which they answer that Murdoch doesn't interfere with their business, because he wants revenue-generators, and he is a businessman first. Of course this is an anecdotal piece of info, but I do not think Murdoch is fiddling with the Journal. And the so-called 'right-wing / far-right-wing' articles appear under the clear heading 'opinion'...
So your claim that 'the Journal has gone down the toilet since Murdoch bought it' doesn't appear to be a fair one, to me.
When people say BBC news or some other news is less biased (some say read Chinese news about the US). It's really because it's a different narrative that sounds new/fresh, it covers different tangents that boring local media has never went.
So just watch whatever fits your taste/ideology.But if you are out to change your perspective and encompass as many divergent views as possible.
Just go for the highest contrast, and read history.
Based on that, the approach I take is not how to find unbiased news sources (although I still do try to find those), but to read widely and deeply and most importantly, to think! I try to read both 'liberal' and 'conservative' media to get both sides of the stories. I feel a lot of arguments could be avoided and consensus more easily achieved if more people tried to understand what the 'other side' thinks/feels ... and so I try to keep myself 'educated' by reading all sorts of media.
As soon as you become "loyal", you're much more likely to believe them regardless of what they say.
In addition to sites others have listed, for politics mostly, I've found that these two sites are a good addition (though they're surely biased as well):
They're not news so much as forecasting. A lot of what happens in the news now which used to seem to come out of nowhere doesn't, because I've been reading their updates on the brewing situation between countries X & Y for months.
Similarly I enjoy Foreign Policy, though they're a bit pulpy at times. Still cheaper than an Economist subscription though.
I stopped watching TV years ago, and have mostly dropped radio as well. I enjoy reading news with the time to stop and think about what I just read. My main sources are (in no particular order): The Economist, NY Times, BBC News, The Guardian, NPR, and the Globe and Mail.
When I do follow the news, if a story interests me I try to find articles from 2 or 3 different countries to get a spread of bias - not saying that averaging always helps though.
I live in the USA, and I generally feel that our news is of very low quality. The corporate control of our news media and government is a done-deal, and that strongly effects accuracy and impartiality.
When I'm buying a book at amazon.com, I read the One, Three and Five star review before deciding what to believe.
When I hear something on the news go to Fox, CNN/BBC and NPR/CSPAN...assuming I feel it is 'bias-able'.
New York Times
Al Jazeera English
Drudge Report and
Treat all news sources the same way, it shouldn't be too bad.
For example, I consider anything left of Ayn Rand level capitalism advocacy a left-leaning bias because it's left of the truth. But other people would say that's extremely biased even though it consists of nothing but true statements. What they would call unbiased would be advocacy of some mixed/compromise economic system which is left of capitalism. Shrug.
when all news is biased, at least they make their bias clear.
You can watch the 1 hour, no commercial, programs online on their site. In my opinion this is the only professional national nightly news program in America. They do not lack journalistic integrity or show 'fluff' stories. Usually the program consists of 3-4 main stories where they bring on 2-3 highly qualified commentators with opposing or unique viewpoints and the discussion is moderated. At one point in the program they give a rundown of the days other stories in a brief rapid fire list, delving into more detail depending on the importance or gravity of the story.
This Week with Jake Tapper
Sunday's at 9am. Excellent and unbiased. Tapper asks really hard questions of both sides of the political spectrum. Last week he had McCain, this week he had David Axelrod. He owned them both a few times.
The quality of news in this country from the main stream media is deplorable but there are a few gems out there.