The rookie's guide to acting politically informed

June 08, 2016
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So, first of all, let’s be honest about two things. Firstly: informed political opinions require serious time investment. There’re so many things to consider when entering any discussion about politics like biases and the political leanings of reporters, the presence of spin, underlying agendas, the history of whoever’s talking. Secondly: it can be hard to maintain interest in politics long enough to develop an informed opinion.

We all want to give our two cents, and sometimes it’s very tempting to jump straight ahead to the“discussion” part. Here’s the rookie’s guide to looking like you’re informed without actually being informed.

Facebook’s new ‘Politics’ topic feed

Have you paid attention to the recent news feed alterations? It’s basically Facebook’s answer to TweetDeck. The algorithms are still in the early stages, so you can write a status about the price of eggs in China and find it labelled as‘Politics’, but for the most part, the content selection is accurate. Here you’ll find news agency posts as well as random public statuses. From here, it isn’t hard to get an idea of what issues are trending and what you need to be talking about guide your convos.

So you’re looking for an update on the US election, or maybe what Boko Haram are up to these days. Well, friend, get in your fave bookmarks and just relax. If you’re the kind of person who likes to read comments, then you’ll quickly realise that this thread gets a lot of flack for being “liberal” (in the American context), but I wouldn’t really ascribe any measure of salt to these critics. The truth is that the best-rated posts on /r/worldnews are submitted from a diverse range of news outlets and independent agencies, and the sheer mass of users active on reddit naturally filter out the BS most of the time. What this means is that the front page of /r/worldnews is basically a recap of the last 18 hours of politics across the world. Handy, right?

Idiot’s guides and explainers are your friends

From The Conversation to the ABC, idiot’s guides and explainers are aplenty. Basically, you can expect material that’s focused on the basics of any given issue, and that assumes a layman reader. Recent examples include negative gearing, getting up to speed with the US presidential race, and of course, our federal budget.

Identify your politically active peers and engage

If you’ve never heard of opinion leadership, congrats, you never did media studies. The theory of opinion leadership is founded on the idea that societies are made up of politically active and politically dormant people, and that general, the politically active will shape the discourse of the politically dormant.

A really, really good example is that of the modern-day talk show host. Think John Oliver, David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart. The same thing is happening with your mate who runs that blog she talks about so much. If you’re looking for a rundown, approach the most vocal people you know and get amongst it.

Visit parliamentary websites for daily proceedings

But, you can actually be lazier. If you’ve never heard of ‘Hansard’, well, I don’t blame you. The only people who use it are ministerial staffers and people practicing journalism. But seriously, you guys, it’s good.

Each time a chamber is scheduled to sit for a day, the Hansard is updated the evening before and it provides a daily program. What does this mean? It’ll tell you which ministers are set to answer which questions, what speeches will be based around, which bills are up for first or second readings, and so on. If you need a cheat sheet on the most recent political discussions, you don’t need to go past Hansard.

Jonathan Davidson

Jonathon is studying journalism at Murdoch University in Perth.

Image: Takver, Flickr Creative Commons license