20 top news sites that will make you smarter

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20 top news sites that will make you smarter

Updated November 16, 2014

It's Friday and you're hanging out with your friends, when one of them brings up some story that's been on the top news sites the past week. The rest of the group joins in to offer their opinions—but not you. You have a dim recollection that something newsworthy happened recently, but you have no idea what they're talking about.

We know what you're going to say. You didn't have time to follow the news! You were busy with other things, like Buzzfeed and this one crazy addictive game on your phone. And that's fine. We're not here to judge you on your work/life/news balance. What we're here for is to help you become a newsier person, so you'll always be ready to join in—or with practice, even initiate—a topical conversation in any situation.

We've split these 20 top news sites into two broad groups. "Water cooler" news is the kind of news that everyone knows a little about—it's what fuels your casual chats with co-workers. "Cocktail party" news is less widespread, either because it hasn't been picked up by the mainstream media yet, or because it's got more of a niche appeal. We've focused on sites beyond the usual suspects (CNN, BBC, etc.) to help you discover something new.

If you're the impulsive type, start clicking at the logos below to launch the sites. Otherwise you can scroll down for our summaries of where each one fits into a daily news diet.

Update: Alas, one of our previous "water cooler" choices on this list was re-absorbed into its parent publication and no longer exists. We've replaced it with a social newsfeed option that we like. And since we had the hood up, we went ahead and added another high quality "cocktail party" choice for more variety. We're nice like that.

20 top news sites to bookmark

"Water cooler" news

If you want a quick fix or just need the basics...

Digg Deeper

Digg Deeper

digg.com

We already recommend Digg further down this list as a good all-purpose source of news to share with others, but if you want to really impress your friends, use Digg Deeper to keep track of the news they're already sharing. It only scans your Twitter feed for now, but Digg promises future integration with other social networks (meaning Facebook).

The Week

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theweek.com

The whole point of The Week is to summarize the week's news so you don't have to spend as much time reading it, so it makes sense that you can find lots of pre-digested news stories here. Its "Speed Reads" section is a good way to get caught up when you only have a few minutes to spare.

The Daily Beast

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www.thedailybeast.com

It's like Slate, but not as rife with clickbaity headlines that have overtaken that site in the past few months. One of The Daily Beast's best assets is its daily "Cheat Sheet," which is similar to The Week's "Speed Reads" but even more pared down—just 10 current stories with one-paragraph summaries.

Fact Check

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www.factcheck.org

Unlike the other sites in this list, Fact Check isn't focused on delivering the most current news stories. But it's worth adding to your list because it's a great tool for cutting through all the partisan spin that distorts most political news. Odds are you already have your favorite political sites bookmarked. Think of Fact Check as a tool to help you cut out the B.S.—and arm yourself against the latest misleading article, political ad, or official statement.

Next Draft

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nextdraft.com

Next Draft is really a daily email of links to some of the most interesting content from the past 24 hours or so. In each issue, editor Dave Pell offers up links to current "serious" news content as well as links to weirder and/or funnier stuff. It's a good way to dive more deeply into the day's top stories, while also injecting a little humor into your end-of-day office doldrums.

If you have some time to spare and want to dive deeper into longer content...

A.V. Club

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www.avclub.com

For your entertainment fix, skip Entertainment Weekly and head to The Onion's non-satirical entertainment site A.V. Club. It's a great source of news for movie, TV, music, book, and gaming fans—so basically everybody. (It also breaks out "comedy" into a separate section, but if you're that into comedians, be sure to check out Splitsider.)

Grantland

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grantland.com

You'll find well-written articles about two things here: sports and Hollywood. You can find similar content on the latter topic elsewhere, but Grantland is one of the best places to go for longer sports writing.

Quartz

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qz.com

This offshoot from The Atlantic is a streamlined, tech-savvy news site. It's focused mainly on business journalism and global news, but you'll find a colorful mix of additional topics on the site each day, and almost zero "filler" content. Pro tip: subscribe to the daily Quartz newsletter for a hard news jumpstart to your day (but don't worry, it always includes some fun news items too).

FiveThirtyEight

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fivethirtyeight.com

FiveThirtyEight is the site helmed by Nate Silver, the celebrity statistician at the forefront of "data driven" journalism, and the stories here supplement traditional reporting with charts, graphs, and statistics to provide a more quantifiable take on current events. It's an especially good source for smart sports and political reporting.

Vox

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www.vox.com

Vox is the site helmed by Wonkblog founder Ezra Klein, but in addition to substantive pieces about politics and the government, it produces a lot of softer general interest news. Its most compelling feature—at least if you find yourself lost about some important current event—is its Cardstacks section, where it breaks complicated issues into bite-sized explanations.

"Cocktail party" news

If you want a quick fix or just need the basics...

Fuego

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www.niemanlab.org/fuego

Nieman Journalism Lab describes their aggregation tool as a "heat-seeking Twitter bot," which just means it gathers up and shares the news links that journalism professionals are sharing the most, so you can get a good sense of what's trending even if you only skim the headlines. Since the list is compiled from journalist-to-journalist chatter, the stories don't always match up exactly to what the general public is reading—but they frequently hint at what's about to break into the mainstream. It's a great way to tap into the collective hive mind of all the people who actually report the news.

Techdirt

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www.techdirt.com

Techdirt is defiantly opposed to corporate misbehavior and government overreaching, which makes it a fun, if sometimes infuriating, read. It covers things like IP law, government regulation, and the various entertainment industries. That might sound dry, but if you spend a few moments on the site you'll almost certainly learn about an important current news story that's not being covered accurately (or at all) by the mainstream media.

Digg

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digg.com

If you're old (in internet years) you may remember Digg from its heyday in the second half of the last decade, before it sputtered out as other sites stole its traffic. But it was relaunched recently as a cleaner, simpler news aggregation website, and it should be one of your daily stops on the web. Digg provides links to good articles about the current big stories, but also links to hilarious videos and oddball content. The result: you may learn something new about current events, but you'll also be able to share fun content that most of your friends haven't seen yet.

Reddit

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www.reddit.com

To a first-timer, Reddit may not seem like much; the design of the site doesn't exactly scream cutting-edge. But then you'll see a front page post that piques your interest, and before you realize it a half hour will have passed and you'll notice you've now got 15 Reddit tabs open in your browser.

The site is more than an entertaining time waster, though. Because Redditors can and do post about every topic under the sun, you'll often find interesting threads about current news stories. When you visit, be sure to check out some of the "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) posts, where a celebrity or other well-known person shows up and answers questions from the community.

Matter

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medium.com/matter

The articles on Matter, a formerly independent web magazine now published through the website Medium, range from personal essays to longform journalism. Sometimes the articles focus on current news stories, but it's just as likely that something you read here will show up later in the week on a more old-school news site.

If you have some time to spare and want to dive deeper into longer content...

Vice

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www.vice.com

Of all the sites listed here, Vice is the only one you might need to avoid if you work in a humorless office environment, because it doesn't mince words with headlines or stories. But they're good stories that cover everything from global politics to counterculture entertainment. And when you're tired of reading, you can spend some time wincing at the men and women in the fashion Dos and Don'ts slideshow.

Ars Technica

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arstechnica.com

Yes, it's a site that covers technology and the internet. But since those topics pervade our day-to-day lives now, the content you'll find here—especially the articles about our legal system and government regulation—is more relevant to the general public than you might think. It's also got a section focused solely on automotive news, if you're into that.

Pacific Standard

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www.psmag.com

Pacific Standard is helmed by the former managing editor of The Atlantic, and it publishes smart and engaging articles on topics that are timely even if they don't make it to the top of the news cycle. If you're looking for an interesting, not-too-long read on something you hadn't thought much about before, this is a good place to go.

Nautilus

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nautil.us

A science magazine that focuses on a broad theme for each issue—mutation, light, or fame, for example—and then explores all the ways that theme emerges throughout the world. You you can find more topical science news using Google News, but Nautilus will make you smarter about how the world works in general.

Monday Note

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mondaynote.com

This once-a-week bulletin from two veterans of the media and technology industries (one is a former Apple executive) is focused on two areas: (1) Apple and the hardware/software markets in which it operates, and (2) the disruption of journalism and the news media by the internet. The second topic is probably too insular to be of much use to outsiders, but since everyone talks about Apple these days, the tech & finance observations you'll find here will give you an insider's edge over the average Apple observer.

ProPublica

ProPublica

propublica.org

ProPublica is an ambitious attempt to fund the kind of quality, in-depth investigative journalism that most newspapers have abandoned. Their stories and reports are as fascinating and well-researched as you might expect, but what you really want to do is

sign up for the MuckReads newsletter, their weekly round up of the web's best "watchdog reporting."

What are your suggestions?

So there you have it: our 20 top news sites (20.5 if you count Digg Deeper) that you should add to your daily browsing. Now it's your chance to turn us on to new sources of cool and informative content. Let us know in the comments below which sites we should have included, or which ones from the list above you don't think deserve to be there.