There are two kinds of Web surfers in the world: those who believe you can be a well-informed citizen without ever picking up an actual newspaper and those who would like to believe it. For over half a decade, Slate magazine’s Today’s Papers has faithfully served both, delivering a daily capsule dose of the nation’s five most influential front pages (The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today) that at its best is a more enlightening read than any one of them alone—and at the very least is all the news you need to pass for a remotely responsible media consumer. Give TP five minutes of your attention each morning, and you need never again go to the break room unprepared with a wry comment on the day’s top stories or a few thoughts about Scooter Libby beyond being pretty sure it’s the name of that cool new anime series you read about on BoingBoing.
Stick with the program long enough, in fact, and you’ll find Today’s Papers gives you more than just the shadow of a clue. There’s something profoundly eye-opening about the daily practice of reading TP. Simply seeing the various lead stories laid out side by side—one day all of them clustered around the latest Middle East bombing, the next all scattered off in various topical directions as dictated by little more than local politics and editorial crotchets—is a priceless education in the arbitrary nature of the news. But TP’s seasoned newswatchers (weekday writer Eric Umansky and a rotating crew of weekenders) don’t just summarize. Actively pointing out weak reportage, overreliance on anonymous sources, misleading headlines, and other failings flagged by their comparative approach, they train you to read the news as journalists do: all too conscious that it’s made by fallible fellow humans.