As you (incoming student) prepare yourself to enter your fall semester at The La Follette School of Public Affairs, probably nothing can beat reading a few good policy books and keeping up with the news. However, you may also find reading publications and analyses from some key sources useful in your preparations. These sources should both inform you about substantive policy debates and familiarize you with the writing styles of policy analysis. Emphasizing the latter point, and seeing some of the “tricks of the trade” in action, may ease your transition into policy writing and make your first few major assignments significantly easier to complete.
Below are a list of sources by category. Please note that the categories are sorted by relative usefulness, and that the sources are listed within each category based on their relative usefulness within each category.
Do not be overwhelmed by this guide; none of it is required reading in any way. You certainly do not need to be familiar with all of these sources, especially the ones listed at the bottom of each category. These links are simply meant for you to explore over the summer if you wish. Also, having some working knowledge of the commonly-cited think tanks that produce policy analyses may aid your research endeavors at La Follette.
GOVERNMENT THINK TANKS
The Congressional Budget Office
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is the U.S. government’s official evaluator of the cost of legislation, proposed or enacted. The CBO provides authoritative, non-partisan analysis and is one of the most respected institutions in the policy analysis world, regardless of political stripes. CBO also completes economic analyses to supplement the budgetary analyses requested by members of Congress. CBO analyzes policy problems and evaluates alternatives, but does not make recommendations. Learning to write like a CBO analyst would likely provide you with a significant advantage entering the La Follette School.
Congressional Research Service
Like CBO, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides research and policy analysis to members of U.S. Congress on a wide variety of topics. CRS focuses more on short-term research and relies more on the statistical and economic analyses of other institutions than CBO. CRS analyses are also expertly written and provide valuable guidance as to the manner in which policy analyses are crafted. CRS reports are not made public directly by the government; the website Open CRS makes these documents public when they become available.
Government Accountability Office
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluates programs and makes recommendations to Congress with the goal of improving those programs via legislation. GAO does its own research when prior government research on the topics in question is not available. GAO researches both domestic and international programs. Reports by the GAO are generally very detailed and offer clear recommendations.
KEY NEWS SOURCES
Familiarity with both economic theory and current events in world economics and politics will likely prove quite valuable in your upcoming La Follette School classes, whether you are a MIPA candidate or an MPA candidate. The Economist magazine, which is arguably one of the world’s most influential weekly publications, provides current events information with substantial context. The magazine draws on sources from across the world, including many journalists in the United States. The editorial board leans rightward on economic issues, but caters to centrism and evenhanded analysis. The Economist‘s writers usually consider the tradeoffs for different policies discussed in their articles in a more thorough manner than in most news publications. The website allows a certain number of free views per week; if you are unable to, or you’d simply prefer not to, spend the money on the magazine itself, one of your peers may have a subscription. It’s a lot of reading each week, but passing around a copy may be an effective way to read the most pertinent articles to your subject area.
The Economist Website
The New York Times – Economix Blog
The New York Times (and the global edition, The International Herald-Tribune) provide solid coverage of domestic and global events generally, and following the news via The Times (or their daily email updates [view in browser here]) would likely be worthwhile. However, the Economix blog probably provides the closest to evaluative policy discussion that The New York Times website consistently offers. Of course, some occasional news analyses and articles may more closely approximate a full analysis, but the Economix blog deals with the data and speaks the language of economics more than other parts of the website. The blog posts can be very short, and the blog’s editors lean slightly to the left, but the analysis is usually insightful.
The Washington Post – Wonkblog
Part of The Washington Post‘s impressive array on online offerings, this blog evolved from Ezra Klein’s blog on public policy in the United States. Focusing mostly on domestic policy, this blog has accumulated more writers and attracted a significant following. Between the daily morning update on domestic policy-related news (called “Wonkbook”) and other posts throughout the workday, the Wonkblog keeps its finger on the pulse of most Washington, D.C. domestic policy developments while also sifting through interesting trends and long-term stories. The blog’s founder, Ezra Klein, leans left, but the other writers generally do not show their political stripes. This news source is free and unrestricted, although you may have to provide the Washington Post website with an email address.
Council on Foreign Relations – Daily News Brief
This weekday morning news roundup from the highly-respected Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) provides an excellent summary of world events, relevant analysis, and links to more sources. The Daily News Brief usually highlights geopolitical and economic issues in its top stories, but it addresses topics across the global policy agenda.
Whether you are a MIPA or an MPA, Foreign Affairs magazine (also published by The Council on Foreign Relations) provides relevant analysis with critical and insightful context. Although it focuses primarily on international policy from a U.S. perspective, the free material on their website covers a wide range of topics and may be helpful for understanding both global and national events.
Foreign Affairs Website
Other News Sources – International
The Associated Press – world headlines from the most influential English-language global newswire
Reuters – world headlines from a well-respected global news and business wire service, also via RSS
BBC – arguably the most recognized international news broadcaster in the Anglosphere, funded by London
Al Jazeera English – a Middle Eastern-based broadcaster rising in global influence, funded by Doha
CNN International – the international news channel and website produced by CNN, commercially funded
France24 – France’s international news broadcaster, funded by Paris
Foreign Policy – magazine published by The Washington Post Company, features wide variety of opinion
The Guardian – The United Kingdom’s primary left-leaning newspaper
Other News Sources – Domestic and Wisconsin
The Wall Street Journal – the best-selling newspaper in the United States
Time – the daily news website for the popular weekly news magazine
The Hill, National Journal, Roll Call, Politico – publications oriented toward politics and (at varying levels) policy
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – the best-selling newspaper in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin State Journal – Madison’s largest daily newspaper
The Wheeler Report – a thorough daily summary of Wisconsin government news and opinion statewide
Wisconsin Public Radio – stations and schedules here
NON-GOVERNMENT THINK TANKS
Below are lists, divided into categories, of think tanks that are generally perceived to produce good quality analyses. The number of think tanks has increased in recent years, and seemingly high-quality analysis can be found from a variety of sources across the internet. While some newer sources may provide great analysis and establishment sources can have their bad days, becoming familiar with some key policy think tanks may aid your research at La Follette and beyond. Indeed, familiarity with think tanks and the analyses they produce may help guide future employment decisions.
Think Tanks Generally Perceived As Centrist or with Slight Leanings
The Brookings Institution – the oldest D.C. think tank, one of the most respected
The Pew Research Center – a multifaceted, large research organization
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) – primarily foreign affairs analysis, very well-respected
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) – nationwide network of economists
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) – highly-respected think tank with international affairs focus
Tax Policy Center (TPC) – project of The Brookings Institution and The Urban Institute
Chatham House – high-profile British international affairs think tank
The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC)
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE)
International Crisis Group (ICG)
European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)
Think Tanks Generally Perceived as Right-Leaning
American Enterprise Institute (AEI) – well-respected, older think tank
CATO Institute – libertarian think tank
The Heritage Foundation – unabashedly conservative think tank dealing with a wide range of issues
Think Tanks Generally Perceived as Left-Leaning
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) – generally rigorous think tank that produces lots of content
Economic Policy Institute (EPI) – small but well-respected think tank connected to organized labor
Center for American Progress (CAP) – unabashedly progressive think tank dealing with a wide range of issues
Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)
>>>> not to be confused with the Europe-based Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)
Finding and evaluating the reliability of news and analysis sources online is a worthwhile and informative exercise. The list above is by no means exhaustive, and there are plenty of other high-quality sources beyond the scope of this guide.
News and analysis aggregators offer a way of filtering sources of information from the world wide web. Put colloquially, these sites give you at least some sense of the material that the people who read this stuff think you should read. However, just because a source shows up on a news aggregator does not mean that it is a quality source. Aggregators may be either pushing a viewpoint, trying to achieve some sort of imposed balance between viewpoints, or have an agenda oriented around promoting or avoiding certain sources of information. Aggregators may also simply be sloppy.
One of the more popular aggregation sites is the Real Clear aggregator network. This network provides both a suitable gateway to daily content and a fair snapshot of the daily occurrences in certain fields. Due to the quick-turnover nature of the sites in this network, the links tend to be from news sources and blogs, but often the links will lead to in-depth reports and analyses. Some observers have suggested that Real Clear Politics leans to the political right; these claims are difficult to verify.
Hopefully, this guide will be helpful! Again, please note that none of this is required in any way.
All of the opinions, or any statements that could be perceived as opinions, are the result of Phil Sletten’s own reading and analysis. Opinions or perceived opinions listed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The La Follette School of Public Affairs, any staff or faculty member at The La Follette School of Public Affairs, or the student body of The La Follette School of Public Affairs. This guide is solely intended to inform incoming La Follette School students and is not intended to evaluate or judge think tanks or publications with any authority. Phil Sletten completed this blog post in his own free time, and he does not necessarily represent the views of any organization or entity.