Like many recent university graduates, I am coming to terms with the loss of time that I will be incurring upon starting a new job.
The almost-unparalleled freedom that comes with having 12 weekly contact hours is phenomenal. This meant that I spent an unhealthy amount of time listening to podcasts, reading long-form essays and policy blogs, as well as other current-affairs based content. Although it is my hope to continue this toxic love-hate relationship with my Twitter feed, the pressures of a 9-5 are inevitably going to force me to dial down this pastime.
Such a realisation worries me. I genuinely want to be an expert in multiple dimensions, and full-time work could inhibit this. Whilst this appears to be a very demanding aim, there are ways that you can consume information in a much smarter manner.
Last year I caught the newsletter bug. They help to recalibrate my thinking, expose me to different forms of content, and importantly, do a lot of the groundwork when it comes to separating out what is useful from what is bullshit.
This final point is most prescient for people that don’t have loads of free time on their hands, and is why it seemed useful to compile a selection of some of the most insightful and exciting newsletters. By no means is this definitive (I have selected a largely generalist style). Newsletters are becoming the new ‘podcast’ in terms of their ubiquity (I mentioned this in the most recent episode of my very own pod, Spicy Takes). However, the content below is superb at capturing what is relevant to our modern world in a comprehensive fashion.
The Westminster One (Politico – Jack Blanchard’s London Playbook)
Mercurial content, this one. For those interested in the bowels of UK government, Politico’s London Playbook is the place to start. Sent daily in the early hours of the morning, government announcements, media/SpAd appointments and fresh research lands in your inbox by the time you are getting ready for work. Very few people have their ear as close to the Westminster underbelly as editor Jack Blanchard, and it is well worth checking out.
The Social Impact One (Vox Media – Future Perfect)
If, like me, you are interested in how to solve the world’s most pressing problems, Dylan Matthews and the Future Perfect team pick out some of the most exciting writing and research in fields such as AI, climate change, global poverty and animal cruelty. I got stuck into the newsletter in 2019 after listening to an 80,000 Hours podcast with Vox writer Kelsey Piper.
Ezra Klein and Dylan Matthews (founders of Vox Media) are both effective altruists. This strain of thought believes that society should adopt a rationalist, evidence-based approach to make a social impact and fix the biggest problems facing society. Future Perfect is the EA side of Vox’s journalism, and has pointed me to countless developments in many of my favourite research areas. Recent weekly newsletters have highlighted how info-vids from economist influencers such as Abhijit Banerjee can significantly change behaviour that reduces the spread of COVID-19, or that teaching moral philosophy can actual make people more moral.
The Curated One (The Syllabus)
If I were to recommend one newsletter from this list, The Syllabus would undoubtedly be it. You can pick up to 10 modules from 60 (ranging from the political economy of trade, to algorithms, to drug policy, to the history of art), and will receive a weekly list of journalism, academic papers and podcasts which have come out in the previous weeks that match your module choices.
How is this done? The Correspondent recently penned a super profile on The Syllabus and its founder, Evgeny Morozov, outlining the key features of this revolutionary approach to knowledge. An algorithm scans the internet for content that contains keywords (from a list of thousands) which correspond to each individual module. These are then identified and referred to people who work for The Syllabus, who can then check it out and see if it is worth throwing in the new stack.
The Syllabus have curated content on a whole host of topics
The beauty of such a method is twofold. Firstly, it updates in real-time. Words that keep emerging on articles to do with smart cities will be added to the ‘keywords’ area of a module, thereby meaning that authoritative knowledge on a topic constantly evolves due to feedback mechanisms.
Furthermore, this helps to counteract the problem of ‘search’ algorithms that operate via clicks, likes and retweets. We all know that these metrics are terrible barometers for what constitutes good content, and The Syllabus actually provides a viable alternative.
The Slow One (Tortoise Media – The Sensemaker)
Major conflict of interest klaxon here – this year I was a campus ambassador for Tortoise Media. But the same philosophy that drew me towards Tortoise’s mission statement also underpins the media start-up’s daily newsletter.
For those who don’t know, Tortoise Media conduct ‘slow journalism’. This means that they don’t report what is breaking the news. Indeed, they tend to release only one article a day; a longer form of writing which attempts to identify the underlying trends driving society. Not what is breaking news, but what is driving it.
Their newsletter reflects this Raison-D’être. Whilst The Sensemaker does provide some of the big headlines of the day, the bulk of the daily email maps out news angles that are relevant to 5 key trends; The 100 Year Life, Belonging, Wealth, New Things, and Our Planet. This approach presents you with stories that you didn’t know you could ever do without.
The Global One (New Statesman – World Review)
The NS have a series of exciting writers, and I’m sure that political editor Stephen Bush will be heartbroken to not make my spellbinding list. But even Bush’s Morning Call puns couldn’t persuade me to pick their daily newsletter over the forensic analysis delivered by their international affairs editor Jeremy Cliffe and US editor Emily Tamkin.
Since Cliffe joined the NS from The Economist, I have been impressed by the new dimensions added to the magazine’s writing. Modern media can be too domestic at times, and it is incredibly enriching to receive updates (via the World Review) on global affairs; be it the political fallout in Eastern Europe, or feminist activism in Latin America. You don’t need a subscription to access it, but accessing may leave you with no other feeling but to want one.