Dan Sinker/blog

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy.

As I wrote the other day, I've mostly left Twitter at this point. Maybe for good, certainly until it becomes a less awful place run by less awful people. I departed for Mastodon, which felt weird and lonely for a while but after giving it some time (and a few huge influxes of Musk-driven Twitter exiles) it has become a pretty good alternative for the conversational aspects of Twitter. But it hasn't replaced one of the major reasons that Twitter clicked for me: as the primary place to find out about news. And, as a result, I've felt disconnected from news for the first time in a very, very long time.

A dozen or so years ago when "the future of news" was the hottest topic in journalism, one phrase was inescapable: "If the news is that important, it will find me.” It was the dawning of mass-scale social sharing on sites like Facebook and Twitter and it was a wake-up-call for news executives, slow once again to adapt to new trends, and a battle cry for those of us who desperately wanted to move journalism forward: you couldn't expect a news reader to come to you anymore, you had to find them where they were.

That notion was, of course, correct, and in the decade since it's made us all far more passive news consumers. We wait for the news to find us, secure in the knowledge that it will. (There's a whole other essay about how the platforms tweaked their algorithms to juice engagement and, as a result, the news that found us basically broke us, but let's stick to the topic at hand.)

Now that we're in a moment of disruption and there's the potential that social media might be very different on the other side of it, we're going to need to retrain ourselves to become more active news consumers again. Or, at least, I am.

Which is how I ended up firing up an RSS feed reader for the first timed in a long time last week. And honestly, when I launched it, it felt like a revelation.

For those of you that don't remember or never knew, RSS is a decidedly non-sexy technology that underlies a lot of the web. Most things that publish to the internet also publish an RSS feed—encoded versions of the same content designed to be machine-readable. It used to be that most sites would easily expose that feed and feed readers, apps and sites that would grab it, were popular for a while because they took content from all over the web and brought it right to you. Social sharing killed RSS readers. The reader that most people used, Google Reader, was shuttered to push more people to, I think, their failed social sharing platform Buzz, and that was that. Most people forgot about RSS. (Except for one big exception: if you listen to podcasts, you're using RSS every time you get a new episode delivered.)

Anyway, I downloaded an RSS reader because I wanted to be sure that the feed being pushed out by this very website was valid. But instead of starting blank, adding my site, and probably calling it a day, it turns out that at some point I'd previously set up Feedly, the app I chose (likely in a post-Reader hunt for a replacement), and so after I logged in, it pulled in news from sites I cared about back in the late 2000s. It was a nice moment to revisit the person I was then, but also it was a lightbulb going off in my head: Here was a feed! Of news! That's current! It felt familiar in a way that felt good, but also decidedly did not feel like Twitter.

I got to work. I deleted a great number of feeds (apparently I really cared about Apple rumors back in 2009 or so) and replaced them with sites that were relevant to me now, creating topical clusters of news. Adding sites was straightforward, I never once had to copy an XML link, and suddenly I was building a stream of news that I actually wanted to read. Much more local, much less outrage, and far, far less Trump than on Twitter.

I've stuck with it since. In order to retrain my brain, I put the app inside the folder on my phone I call "Distract" which mostly holds games. Now instead of instinctively clicking on Marvel Snap in the morning, I clear out my feeds first. And I've found it, at least for now, to be a useful replacement for getting news from Twitter.

Sure, it's not as immediate as the BREAKING NEWS KLAXONS that have come to dominate news distribution on Twitter, but it's also much less doom-inducing and far less outrage-stoking than news there. And yet I also feel like I'm actually seeing more news than I had before, especially in topics I really care about.

So for now, that's how I'm getting my news. If you're feeling adrift post-Twitter, it might be worth trying RSS out for yourself. What a wild sentence to write in 2022. Maybe everything old really is new again.

Published December 19, 2022.

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