The best websites, if you like to read

Published 7:11 am Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Column: Pothole Prairie

My favorite website, of course, is the Albert Lea Tribune. But as a news editor and a good red-blooded American citizen in this free-speech and free-press democracy we live in, I consume an array of content from lots of websites.

Of course, there is a string on my back. Pull it, and I sometimes will say: “It is wise to get news from multiple sources.” Sometimes, I say this: “I tend to trust the written form of news over other forms because it is more in-depth, less passive and can be held up for scrutiny.” And sometimes, my string makes me say this: “Where is the nearest disc golf course?”

Email newsletter signup

Disc golf aside, let me share with you some of my favorite websites. As you will note, I read a lot of news and commentary as a result.


The Week

An application called Pulse on my smart phone provides me with headlines from various sources, which means headlines from multiple websites are competing for my attention. It seems The Week is my first stop most of the time.

Do you know how you might read the Albert Lea Tribune because, honestly, you don’t have time to go to the city council meeting but you still are concerned about the city government? Well, The Week is sort of the same concept for news. I don’t have time to read several publications and spot the trends in news and commentary that are forming, so The Week does it for me.

Sure, The Week also is a weekly news magazine, and a person can subscribe to it, but its website does a lot of summarizing of — and linking to — content found elsewhere.

For instance, many outlets wrote about Andy Rooney’s death. The Week’s article starts off with a paragraph that tells you quickly what happened and links to the CBS story and to a slideshow The Week compiled. You don’t have to click on those things, so you most likely then look at excerpts of various opinions and reflections that people in the media were saying about Rooney, each with a bolded first sentence. Here is one example:

“He was ‘the greatest complainer of all time’: Andy Rooney’s penchant for complaining was unrivaled, says Mack Rawden at Cinema Blend. For many, “watching Rooney every week became a lovable tradition.” His pointed words not only expressed his own views, but the ‘gripes many viewers had about everyday issues.’”

The words “Mack Rawden at Cinema Blend” are a link. You can read Rawden’s piece on Cinema Blend, if you like.

Imagine the same format with stories on subjects such as the McRib sandwich, big money in college football, Herman Cain’s accusers, “Saturday Night Live” spoofing the Kardashians and the Internet economy. By the way, the Internet is worth $8 trillion.

Some say The Week has a conservative bias, but I don’t detect one at all. The staff seems to summarize trends left or right or in the middle. If it is a news trend, even if it is anti-corporation, it seems to be at The Week’s website. Maybe I just don’t see the world as black and white as some conservatives and liberals do.

Don’t have time to read what’s hot in the national news? Read The Week instead. You’ll find yourself reading the summaries on The Week, and now and then reading the full stories on the original websites.


The Atlantic

Why is it that so many times the stories I am clicking through The Week to read turn out to be in The Atlantic? It’s because this publication thinks its audience members are thinkers. Yes, The Atlantic is also a magazine, but its website is full of knowledge.

So you are in a room of people talking national politics. If you want to sound like the smart one — the guy who does more than just watch cable TV networks — read The Atlantic.

All the cable TV networks will cover with the issue of Herman Cain’s sexual harassment allegations is drone endlessly about the claims — because those get eyeballs to TV sets — and, to a lesser degree, tell us how Cain responds. People on your talking circle might chatter about how Cain is finished. Kaput.

However, you, being a reader of The Atlantic, inform your friends that Cain, though what he may have done is wrong, will be in the race long after these allegations become old news because he has raised oodles of money and because polls are showing that most Republicans say the allegations are not a serious matter and won’t impact their view of him. You blithely say Cain has a war chest to stay on Mitt Romney’s heels through the primary season and all the way to the Republican National Convention.

Imagine this sort of smart outlook in other subjects, from sports to technology to business to everyday life.

What sort of everyday life? The Atlantic’s website on Monday showed me the sort of brainy tattoos that science nerds get. Imagine getting a tattoo of a DNA helix, a chemical sequence or the solar system. There’s a whole book on the topic.



OK, this is a gossip website. I know, I know. Gossip is not necessarily fact. I guess the string on my back also says: “Keep in mind what publication are reading.” But that doesn’t mean don’t read it. Just be sure to read it with some skepticism.

Gawker raises many interesting questions that many news sources haven’t yet answered. And though it focuses way too much on celebrities, be they in Hollywood, Manhattan or the District of Columbia, it has actual issue stories, too, but they are in no way written in typical journalism format. They are written in blog format, which is off the cuff and casual sounding — and sometimes just plain funny. But the stories still are interesting.

On Monday, for instance, it had “How to fight sexual harassment in school,” “Texas might execute an innocent man this week” and “Judge blocks disgusting warnings on cigarette ads.”

I really enjoyed the story “What dumb stints are defining your local election?” It described some of the silly mailers candidates have sent out to constituents.

And that Texas story did a good job of linking to other media sources that have covered the same topic, such as the New York Times and the Austin American-Statesman.


Sports Illustrated

Get ESPN on your phone if you want to read a bunch of wire stories. You can get wire stories all over the place. Get Sports Illustrated on your phone if you want to read sports stories and commentaries that go more in-depth and are found only there. Sure, you might find some wire stories on, too, but I get the feeling the ESPN crew is more interested in running a cable network than in written sports news. ESPN never seems to have much for original content.

However, written sports journalism is Sports Illustrated’s bread and butter. It provides loads of up-to-the-minute written content. Its website and mobile site are much different than its weekly sports magazine and has far more sports content than does ESPN.

Also, ESPN sure enjoys showing me video clips of ESPN talking heads. I don’t care about the ESPN staff interviewing the ESPN staff. Sports Illustrated lets me read the stories in peace.

ESPN and the TV networks also hype the star athletes, which I disdain. knows winning takes a team. It tells me about the other people in sports who aren’t necessarily stars. For instance, a nominee for Sportsman of the Year is the Alabama long snapper, who lost his girlfriend in a tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa in April. Now he inspires the Crimson Tide football team with his courage and character.

Now, if only Sports Illustrated would give disc golf’s pro tour more coverage …


Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every other Tuesday.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

email author More by Tim