Sunflowers against a blue-gray background

Time and attention in recent days have gone to friends and former students in Ukraine, asking what the rest of us, as journalists and citizens, should know, how best to help, how they can get accurate on-the-ground news out of a place that Vladimir Putin is determined to silence. I find it all but impossible to pull my focus away. Some would accuse me of doom-scrolling. But I am grateful for every shred of news from trusted sources, every photo and painting of sunflowers against sweeps of blue, every reliable translation from a friend who emigrated from Russia for college 50-plus years ago and teaches Slavic studies at the University of Washington.

Someone asked what news sources I am tapping. My list is not surprising: The New York Times, NPR, BBC World, the Washington Post (especially for news on U.S. position), Reuters, Bloomberg. I dip into The New Yorker and the Atlantic as I can, and follow Esquire’s political writers, especially Charles P. Pierce when I need an unabashed jolt of smart snark.

It is overwhelming, yet not adequate. So I start my mornings with the headlines and then two must-reads for me:’s newsletter, where media writer Tom Jones lists top headlines and notable stories from a good range of sources, including broadcast. (By his and others’ watch, CNN is the place to turn. That makes sense, as CNN came into prominence with it’s on-site coverage of the first war with Iraq.) Then David Leonhardt’s morning newsletter in The New York Times, summarizing, with depth and accessibility, a primary subject for the day. These days, that’s often something related to Ukraine.

I try to ease out of news a bit before dinner, but check the summary in Matt Kiser’s newsletter, WTF Just Happened Today; the core of that work is a summary of news out of Washington D.C. I tap Nieman Reports and Nieman Lab for posts about how journalists are doing their work and how the industry is being affected. From insiders, I go to the Kyiv Independent, whose journalists separated from the Kyiv Post a few weeks ago.

Then there are less traditional news sites and posts. Many come from those friends and former students I am privileged to have. Others are unexpected but rich: Essays and related literary suggestions from the Literary Hub; occasional notes from Maria Popova at the Marginalian, formerly known as Brain Pickings. Both remind me I really do need to read the Russians — something that has always intimidated me.

And oh, the Russians! I am just as hungry to know what’s going on there, among real people. Putin is taking a chapter from the well-work book of previous authoritarians by decapitating anything resembling an independent press, and social media exchanges along with it. The result: Dangerous denial.

Finding trusted sources

There is nothing special about my go-to list — unless you count trustworthy as special, which I do these days. Offer yours if you will. We live in reader-beware times, and no one can really be expected to do their own vetting on the source of every story, every link, every post.

This extends to finding ways to help that really will help. I’m intrigued by the rise of posts about people booking Airbnb places in Ukraine so the hosts can house refugees. But I haven’t yet seen a story that tell us how to guard against inevitable internet scammers who are hopping on that bandwagon. So for now, my go-to comes from a long-time friend and impeccable source inside Ukraine, who offered his own summary in the first days of this horror.

Is this overmuch? Maybe. But one week into Putin’s special ‘military operation’ (which sure looks like war to me), The Seattle Times landed on my porch and in my inbox with what would have been, before, a combination celebration/criticism story about the long-awaited and over-budget opening of the new international arrivals terminal at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Those angles remained, but were topped by a shift in the message at the ribbon-cutting in a story by Pulitzer-winning aviation reporter Dominic Gates:

Yet with a war raging in Europe that has people all over the world on edge, the ceremonial ribbon-cutting developed an unexpectedly sharp political focus.

Rather than talk about air travelers arriving here in the abstract, state and airport officials recalled this region’s history of welcoming refugees and pledged that this majestic building will welcome families fleeing the devastating war in Ukraine.

Then I opened my private messages in social media and had this quick note from an American journalist I know who has worked in that part of the world for two decades:

… from here we have 21st century genocide playing out live in front of us and not enough being done — too late as Z(elensky) said.

I hope he’s wrong. But he’s there, and I’m not. It is frustrating, as a career journalist, to watch from the sidelines. What I can do, as a citizen of the world, is try to stay informed.

Further Reading