Sources for Civic and Cultural Commentary

While popular sources often provide great information and a relatively quick overview of the topic, much of the serious discussion about national and global civic issues takes place in specialized magazines, journals, and editorial pages. More than mere reporters, authors of these articles typically are experts in their topic. Even when writing about a topic less tied to their area of expertise, they often can devote weeks or months to researching the issue, as opposed to the hours or days allowed by many other sources.


Sometimes called “long form” articles, they have been enjoying a bit of a renaissance as some online sources have gradually abandoned the strict length requirements imposed by more costly paper publication. The rise of e-readers, tablets, and news aggregation sites and apps also has contributed. (At the opposite end of the quality spectrum, here are some “content farm” sites to avoid.)


As you become familiar with these sources, you’ll notice that they sometimes engage in conversations with each other. A New York Times op-ed or TED talk might prompt an article in The Atlantic, which might prompt a response or rebuttal on Slate, Politico, and The Nation. People—really smart ones!—are hashing out ideas for how our society should handle its pressing issues, and it’d be worthwhile to check in on these conversations every once in a while. I hope that your comments on the Civic Issues blogs follow a similar interactive model.


Cultural Drivers / Top Tier Sources – Expert blogs and long form articles

(There’s no official ranking, other than readership, but here’s my sense of things)


New York Times – Opinions It’s really worth looking through the Columnist, Editorials, and Op-Ed links. At the very least, it’d be worth knowing the names of the columnists, as these figures crop up all over the place.


The Atlantic Excellent discussion of a wide variety of contemporary issues, with authors across the (mainstream) political spectrum. They recently added a new regular section dealing with Sex / Gender.


Slate Online – similar in breadth to The Atlantic. Generally varied authorial perspective, although left-leaning positions are more frequent.


The New Yorker While some articles certainly highlight life in New York City, it also features far reaching articles, especially in the news, culture, and politics sections. Left leaning.


The Economist British publication. Although the articles are a bit shorter than some of the others listed here, it’s a very accessible international perspective. The Spectator is similar, although more uniquely British in worldview.


TED Great selection of short video presentations from experts on a variety of topics. The TED conferences that produce these videos are especially popular with early adopters, innovators, futurists, and people who just like learning things. The national and international conferences, in particular, feature some of the world’s foremost thinkers.



Opinion / News Journals


Huffington Post If you want to check out news and commentary from the left.


The Nation Ditto


The New Republic Ditto


The Progressive Ditto


The National Review If you want to check out news and commentary from the right.


The Weekly Standard Ditto


American Spectator Ditto


American Interest Middle of the road


Politico Middle of the road-ish


Reason Magazine Conservative, non-Republican (Libertarian)


First Things Conservative, non-Republican (Classical Liberal)


Public Discourse Conservative, non-Republican (Social Conservative)


Jacobin Liberal, non-Democrat (Radical Leftist)


Mother Jones Liberal, non-Democrat (Radical Leftist)


The New Inquiry Liberal, non-Democrat (neo-Marxist)



Idea Magazines


The Awl is a blog and long form site, tackling an eclectic set of topics. This, plus Grantland, are two of the top online magazines currently generating a lot of buzz.


Grantland is an unusual hybrid source, addressing both pop culture and sports—and sometimes together. Brought to you by Bill Simmons and a host of other writers.


Aeon Magazine I’m still getting a sense of this one—it’s new, and has more than the standard fare—but so far it covers a really interesting set of topics, and from strong writers. It’s take on “ideas and culture” may be socially progressive, but at times this seems to be in the service of more conservative principles. Worth a browse.


Smithsonian Magazine Yes, they do more than museums. From the site: “Smithsonian magazine is a monthly magazine created for modern, well-rounded individuals with diverse interests. It chronicles the arts, history, sciences and popular culture of the times.”


National Geographic Perhaps the most well known long form source in America, paired with outstanding photography. While the online version contains short pieces, these are in addition to the classic longer NatGeo articles.


Harpers covers culture, politics, and literature. Well established and respected. (It’s the oldest general interest magazine in America!)



Specialized Sources


Chronicle of Higher Education does what its name says, and is a must-read for anyone looking to understand current trends in academia.


Vanity Fair – Politics Lots of pop culture elsewhere on the site, but also some great long form articles on contemporary cultural issues.


Wired mostly contains shorter tech-driven articles, but also sometimes has some nice long form pieces.


Outside mostly contains shorter outdoor and adventure sports articles, but has a nice blog (Dispatches) and some long form articles.


Rolling Stone contains plenty of music and pop culture discussion, to be sure, but also good news and commentary within a civic and political framework. Matt Taibbi’s blog is a highlight.


The Root is, according to the site, “the leading online source of news and commentary from an African-American perspective.” Along with Slate, it’s a Washington Post commodity.


Guernica is “a magazine of art and politics.” It contains some interesting long form cultural commentary pieces.


Salon features a blend of politics and entertainment commentary. Shorter pieces, but still sometimes involved in serious conversations.


Lapham’s Quarterly connects current practices with historical context, often by accompanying a long excerpt from a historical source with a contemporary application. It’s unlike anything else out there.


Pro Publica covers a variety of environment, education, health, and politics topics, driven by strong investigative journalism. So far as I can tell, it’s unusually balanced and unbiased in its treatment. (Often targets those in power who abuse it, across the political spectrum.)