I love hearing the thud of the newspaper as it lands on my verandah – or more often, deep in the rosemary bush below, causing me to scare the neighbours as I retrieve it in my dressing gown. As a journalist, it’s part of my job description to be up to date and read as widely as I can. I take this obligation seriously but sometimes, particularly when other parts of my life are busy, as now, this can become a bit of a burden. Which is why it’s useful to know where to find shortcuts to the best writing and coverage of current affairs.

Of course, you don’t have to be a journalist to want to be up to date and exposed to great writing, which is why I thought I’d introduce you to four of my trustiest online companions. The latter two, particularly, are the kinds of lovely sites that make you feel smarter, by virtue of their global perspective and inclusion of sometimes obscure, but always illuminating sites and writers. That’s got to be a good thing.

ABC Newsmail  and The Drum (Australia)

For coverage of mainly Australian (but some international) news, I subscribe to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s twice-daily Newsmail service. It’s a good way of keeping up to date when I’m not near a radio or in the mood for Twitter  – which is another source of rich pickings (but I will cover that in a separate post). If I don’t get around to reading them, I just bin them. Easy.

In the same email, below the news updates, are links to the latest and best reads from the ABC’s excellent commentary site, The Drum. There you’ll find interesting think-pieces from journalists, writers, historians, academics and your more eloquent average Joe.

The Week – Daily digest

This magazine is a favourite of my news-hound Dad, who subscribes to the UK print version. I find I just don’t have time to sit down and read it all in print form, which is where its daily news updates come in handy. The Week is published in the US, the UK and Australia, and pulls together news items from around the world. I subscribe to the UK email version because of my particular interest in that region, but its scope is not limited to just Britain. (Its print version also takes a look at coverage of the same stories by different publications, which is always interesting.) The Week online can tend towards lightness but is a good way to scan the headlines in other regions.

The Shortlist Daily

Each day I look forward to receiving this thoughtful compilation of four or five links to great writing from around the world. A spin-off of respected Australian journal The Monthly, it always delivers stories I wouldn’t have stumbled on, about topics that I wouldn’t necessarily have been drawn to. In one day it can cover subjects as diverse as the Syrian conflict, the relationship between democracy and freedom, global food shortages and the death of Neil Armstrong. It picks up writing from mainstream publications including the New Yorker, the Guardian, the New York Times and The Atlantic, as well as blogs and smaller, independent news sites.

I particularly like the quirky titbit “And Finally” at the bottom of the email. This is where you’ll find humorous news items or links to amazing photo galleries, such as this one of unusual cloud formations.

Brain Pickings Weekly

A bit left-of-centre, less newsy but very worthy, Brain Pickings is a treasure trove of insight and inspiration. The digest for the blog’s best stories, Brain Pickings Weekly, comes as described only once a week, on Sunday, giving you time to work your way through it.

Brain Pickings’ founder, Maria Popova, describes the site as “curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are”. Exactly right. For instance, I am currently reading Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artists because a review of the book on Brain Pickings was so compelling. Am I ever glad I ordered it, for it has opened me up to a whole world of history, music, art, religion and writing that I never knew existed.

An underlying theme of Brain Pickings’ stories is creativity. It often mines the depths of great writers, publishing extracts of books of their letters, diaries or notes, as well as poetry, illustration and photography. I can’t do it justice here; better you just take a look.

I would love to know of any shortcuts you rely on to widen your view on the world (and look and sound smarter, of course!). Share them with everyone by visiting our Facebook page.

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One Response to “Blogs that will make you smarter: Shortlist Daily, Brain Pickings et al”

  1. jacob says:

    Another great addition to this list would be Farnam Street

    This blog is based on “the pursuit of worldly wisdom by trying to master the best of what other people have already figured out.”

    Other than Brainpickings, there is no other site out there that curates more interesting content.

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