art by Bob AulToday—when you can discover in mere seconds how many episodes of Baywatch Sven-Ole Thorsen has appeared on and the sperm count in that stain on Monica Lewinsky's dress—the problem isn't finding enough information; it's finding the good stuff among the dross.
Folks often bitch about the sheer mass of unreliable information on the Internet, and Lord knows I'm not about to disagree. But there are also some excellent sites chock-full of info nuggets you won't necessarily find the mainstream press lunging to report. This week, I take you on a guided tour of the Web sites I use to keep up with the world, sites I visit every morning and gorge myself on. Come graze with me.
Yahoo! News (dailynews.yahoo.com) is my launching point for the day. The search engine Yahoo! carries stories by the news service Reuters. This is bare-bones news: who shot whom, who invaded what, who stuck which foot in whose mouth. It's intensely mainstream, but it's useful for getting caught up on the basics. And it's always interesting to see the differences between mainstream coverage of an issue and how it's treated by the alternative press. From here, I jump to . . . Salon (www.salon.com), an online zine that vaulted to prominence during the Clinton impeachment, when it published accounts of Congressman Henry Hyde's (R-Illinois) infidelities 30 years ago. Bomb threats were made. Accusations flew. Journalists clutched their bosoms in dismay. It was lovely. Salonhit its high point during the impeachment trial, but it has kept plugging gamely away since then, reporting on George W. "Shrub" Bush's appalling record in Texas, providing solid coverage of the Matthew Shepard murder trial in Wyoming, and so on. It provides a forum for writers as diverse as David Brin, Garrison Keillor, Camille Paglia and David Horowitz. I don't always agree with their interpretations of the news, but they're always thought-provoking and well-worth a read.
From Salon, I head for that repository of all things geeky, Ain't It Cool News (www.aint-it-cool-news.com). This is my own private indulgence, where I can stuff myself with the latest reports by Ain't It Cool News' legions of spies: who's been cast in Lord of the Rings, how the script is shaping up for the Sandman movie, what's going wrong with the X-Men film. Run by Harry Knowles, a 300-plus-pound redhead in Austin (you may have caught his cameo role as a teacher in the distasteful Robert Rodriguez film The Faculty), the site has coordinated the previously diffuse efforts of sci-fi and fantasy fans into a force powerful enough to make studio execs quake. The writing is often not of the highest quality, and the editing is worse, but who cares? I'm not here for elegant prose; I'm here for raw, unfiltered geek gossip, and the site has that in abundance.
Next is Slashdot (www.slashdot.org), whose slogan is "News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters." Slashdotis the quintessential example of participatory journalism. Rather than passively opening their mouths and letting the pros shovel in stories, the readers at Slashdotprovide the news themselves by sending in tips on stories and commenting on issues in the discussion forums that follow each story. In October, the folks at Slashdotcaused a considerable amount of hyperventilation among journalists when the venerable magazine Jane's Intelligence Review asked them to review an upcoming story on cyberterrorism. After Slashdot's readers merrily ripped the article a few new ones, Jane's decided to scrap the original story and write a new one based on their comments.
Slashdotalso deserves praise for Jon Katz's continuing coverage of the aftershocks of the Columbine massacre. Titled "Stories From the Hellmouth," it is a compendium of the horrors being visited on kids who are different: before, they just had to worry about being picked on and beaten up. Now they have to worry about being thrown in jail for the crime of not fitting in. Compassionate, wise and indignant, Katz's essays are giving disenfranchised teens a much-needed voice. They should be required reading for all.
From there, I hop over to Newslinx (www.newslinx.com), a site that sifts through the Internet several times a day and links to stories about everything the wired person needs to know. Included are articles from Wired News, AP, News.com, The New York Times and many more. It's a great one-stop shopping experience for high-tech news.
Finally, I hit Rough & Tumble (www.rtumble.com). Compiled by veteran TV reporter Jack Kavanaugh, Rough & Tumble is a daily digest of political coverage from around the Golden State. If you want to know what heinous thing the state Legislature has committed lately, catch up on the latest scandal blowing out of LA Unified, or keep track of the shifting loyalties among state pols, this is an invaluable resource.
One site I check frequently, although not every day, is the Urban Legends Reference Pages (www.snopes.com). Run by Barbara and David Mikkelson out of San Fernando Valley, this is theplace to go when you get one of those e-mails about the sick kid who needs your help, or the $5,000 reward Bill Gates is going to give you for forwarding this message to all your friends, or the martial-law road signs the government is shipping all over the country. The Mikkelsons investigate and debunk the urban legends that circulate on the Internet with wit and good sense. Their explanations are always engaging to read, and besides, they're lovely people.