Last week, four days featured major news stories that broke at night: the Oscars screw-up on Sunday, Trump’s speech to Congress on Tuesday, Jeff Sessions’ apparent perjury about his Russian contacts on Wednesday, and Mike Pence’s private email account on Thursday. If you’re like me, you work in media during evening hours, or perhaps you’re a news junkie, and even though it was after dark, you immediately devoured the writing and Twitter jokes that were birthed of those stories. If you’re everybody else—someone who spends their evenings with loved ones, watching Netflix, or working away from a screen—you learned about them the next morning.
But how? Maybe you flip the TV on and catch snatches of news as you got ready, or maybe like me, you’re addicted to your smartphone and grab it as soon as you wake up. Learning the news takes time, and for most people, the morning does not provide much. According to data analyzed by FiveThirtyEight, the median workplace arrival time for Americans is an ungodly 7:55 a.m. WNYC compiled nationwide commute times and found the average commute to be 25.4 minutes. So even if we conservatively assume that people spend 10 minutes showering, 10 minutes dressing and grooming, and 10 minutes eating breakfast, then immediately flee out the door, many Americans already have an alarm clock blaring at least as early as 7 a.m. Who has time to read multiple-page stories so early? Maybe you read very quickly; a colleague tells me he reads the sports and metro sections of his local paper front-to-back in 10 minutes every morning while he eats cereal.
But most of us read much more slowly. Thankfully, there’s a more efficient, more comprehensive way to get informed while you get ready each morning. It’s called radio.
I’ve listened to NPR’s Morning Edition most workdays since I graduated from college in 2008. (Full disclosure: Before working at Slate, I also interned at NPR and worked on a per diem basis for member-station WNYC.) The program is not ideal for sheer important-information-delivery; if you want capital-N news, sometimes you’ll be stuck with a charming conversation between loved ones or a pledge drive. But most days, the top of the hour has important national and international stories, and during the show’s breaks, each listener’s local public radio station adds news, transit, and weather information. If you’re too cool for terrestrial radio, another option is the New York Times’ new podcast The Daily, designed for morning consumption. It’s also a good way to stay informed each day: In 15-20 minutes, the show provides context for two major news topics and a brief rundown of a few other stories to watch.
Morning Edition and The Daily are not all-encompassing, and they’re not perfect. (There are also other options if you think NPR and the New York Times are either bad or squadrons in the left-wing army conspiring to destroy Donald Trump.) But it’s no wonder why The Daily is now ranked No. 2 on the iTunes podcast charts or why it spent its first 19 days at No. 1. And it’s no coincidence that during an era when—accurately or not—we feel like we have less free time than ever, that hands-free audio consumption is ascendant. If you’re short on sleep and rushing to get out the door each day, and you’re fumbling with your hair and bag, reading is difficult. Maybe you read superfast like my colleague or you want to set your alarm a half hour earlier, so you can read about what new havocs befall humanity each day. But if you don’t, your ears will do what your eyes cannot.
One last plea: For the good of the world, please subscribe to newspapers and spend other times of the day reading them in print and online. And read news on trustworthy web-only publications, too—we try to do a decent job, and I need a paycheck. But if you want to maximize the first hour you spend awake, buy a clock radio or download a news podcast, and just listen.