A New Year’s Resolution: My attempt to become a more informed citizen

Have you ever followed through with a New Year’s resolution? Me neither.

My attitude towards the whole thing is meh. Self-improvement is a nice thought and all, but the turning of the year, in and of itself, just isn’t enough motivation to drastically change my habits and attitudes.

I don’t think the January timing helps much, either.  On dark, cold-and-flu season, deepest depths-of-winter days, getting up at 5 AM to hit the gym clashes with every bodily impulse. Why bother trying?

So this year, I’m setting the bar low.  I can achieve my resolution from the comfort of my couch. It involves no sacrifice, little effort and zero cost. At the same time, I think it’s an important one. And by putting it in writing, I might actually stick with it. So here goes.

This year, I will become a more informed citizen.

Or, at least a teeny bit more informed. My baseline on this is embarrassingly low. I don’t entirely understand our political system here in the U.S. (I guess I snoozed through that junior year American history class). I’ve never watched or read the news regularly. I’m largely ignorant with regard to beliefs, attitudes, and lifestyles outside my northeast suburban bubble.

Time to change that.

Speaking of time, my biggest challenge is to carve out a few hours weekly for reading, listening, and attempting to comprehend what the heck’s happening out there. Right now, I’m home full-time with two young children. Some might think I have plenty of time to peruse the news while juggling the kids. I don’t.

So, I’m starting small, with about 3.5 hours a week of dedicated information gathering. I certainly won’t be impressing anyone with acute sociopolitical insights in the near future, but baby steps, right?

Here’s my strategy:

1. Read theSkimm. This daily email newsletter provides an extremely concise breakdown of 4 or 5 current events, including background info, which I find very helpful.  The snappy language makes for an easy read (although it’s sprinkled with acronyms I often don’t know. BFD? NBD? Seriously, WTF?).  

Time commitment:  10 minutes per week

2. Speaking of skim(m), I also plan to skim the homepage of 5 or 6 news outlets each day, just to check headlines and get a snapshot of the day’s events, from different perspectives (interesting how headlines differ from source to source).

Time commitment: 25 minutes per week

3. Read Reuters U.S. political news round-up. This daily email lists and links to the day’s political stories (each of which I’ll actually read, starting January 1). Reuters seems to offer relatively unbiased, to-the-point coverage, which I appreciate.

Time commitment: Approx. 75 minutes per week

4. Listen to at least one On Point podcast per week.  I’m already a big fan of Tom Ashbrook and this daily radio show, which explores a range of always interesting topics from politics to pop culture. The panelists are usually top-class and Tom does his best to be an objective, probing moderator. Importantly, listeners from across the country and all political stripes call-in, exposing me to viewpoints I might not hear elsewhere.   

As a panelist recently noted, we need more opportunities for “civic, civil discourse” in the U.S., and On Point currently provides one of the few.

Time commitment: At least one 45 minute podcast per week

5. Watch American Experience. This PBS series offers an enjoyable way to soak in the story of America, from the Pilgrims to the present, from the civil rights movement to Tupperware. I find it always informative and engaging, and often inspiring.

Time commitment: Approx. 60 minutes per week (episode length varies)

So, that’s it. 

Again, this works out to a commitment of about 3.5 hours a week. Sounds pretty doable, right?

If all goes well, next year I’ll take this a step further and resolve to become a more proactive and engaged citizen. Watch out congressional representatives and assorted government people, you have one year before I start raising a ruckus.

I should also mention that I plan to take weekends off from this resolution, because as we know, important stuff doesn’t happen when we’re relaxing and having fun.

Anyway, what’s your New Year’s resolution this year?


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