How do other people deal with the torrent of information that pours down on us all? Do they have some secret? Perhaps. We are asking various people who seem well-informed to describe their media diets. This is from a conversation with Clara Jeffery, co-editor of Mother Jones magazine.
Twitter has become my principal way to digest news and my use and abuse of it can begin ungodly early. I got into a bad habit of sleeping with my BlackBerry on the nightstand when we had @MacMcClelland in some dicey situations in Haiti and I wanted to be able to receive her texts day and night. So I wake at around 5 am, Pacific Time, check email and Twitter for a bit, email the DC bureau if there’s something breaking that’s in their wheelhouse. Then, unless stuff’s really hitting the fan, I try and go back to sleep until our son Milo wakes us up, usually around 7 am. I’d say I’m successful in falling back asleep about 50% of the time. Basically, I violate all the best practices of Arriana Huffington’s sleep campaign. But at least I’ve stopped tuning in the BBC overnight all night to lull me to sleep; my partner put his foot down.
Once we’re all up, NPR goes on and I’m listening to it and checking Twitter (phone and laptop) while trying to keep us from being pulled across the toddler event horizon as we try and get a everybody up, fed, and outfitted for the day. My only shot at exercise is to walk to work, about 3.5 miles. I try and listen to music, but confess that many a morning I’m checking Twitter too. It’s a miracle I haven’t been hit by a car, or by a hipster on a fixie who’s also checking Twitter.
Once I’m at the office, Twitter is a constant companion. It leads me to whatever I need to know, plus time-suck awesomeness like 20 Sad Etsy boyfriends. I can also track how we’re doing at promoting our own stories, and just get a glimpse into the great humor of my coworkers.
If events demand, I watch breaking news on my desktop. Which is pretty much Al Jazeera English. For events in the Middle East, or course, but frankly they did a much better job of early Tsunami coverage that did CNN. You can really see how the cuts to foreign bureaus has hurt American TV and print reporting these days. No offense to @TimeOutTokyo, but when I’m getting better earlier information from them than America’s biggest news orgs, it’s a sad day.
Daily, I get my news via my Twitter feed and all the sources it leads me to, as well as NPR. I subscribe to Slate’s email newsletters and our own (obviously). And the NYT news alert. Other than that I’ve cut them out (sorry everybody who needs the affiliated revenue!). Twitter has replaced all those forms for me. It’s faster—often beating the NYT news alert by as much as a half hour—more comprehensive. I can tailor it to particular news events or interests. So, like everybody else in the media, I’ve recently added NPR’s @ACarvin, FP’s @BlakeHounshell, @AJEnglish, @SultanAlQassemi and others to get a better grip of what’s going on in the Middle East. On Japan, everything from the aforementioned @TimeOutTokyo to @BoingBoing to @JesseJenkins, who’s doing god’s work aggregating. I’m looking for a good source for news from the Ivory Coast, which has been completely ignored.
I follow about 400 people and institutions on Twitter. The vast majority are journalists or journalism related—not that many of my non journo friends have taken the plunge. So probably half are political reporters and breaking news/crisis of the month sources, including @DavidCornDC and the rest of our DC bureau. Then there’s a big media critic/new media overlay. I’ve worked for both @JackShafer and @carr2n, so them of course, but also @PKafka, @RachelSklar and a whole bunch more. There’s a feminist overlay: @AnnFriedman, @AnnaHolmes, @DoubleX and etc. There’s a green/climate subsection, @drgrist would be my go to (along with our own @kate_sheppard of course) because he’s got pitch perfect tweets that mix outrage and facts and amusing anecdotes about his kids. There’s a techie subsection, manned by a lot of folks in the @Wired and @BoingBoing universe and @blam and @alexismadrigal, and a science section, where @stevesilberman is indispensible.
What I also really like about Twitter are the flashes of insight you get into people you follow, what induces them to rage, what elicits humor. Exchanging quips and friendly barbs helps you stay close with friends and former coworkers, and you can forge new relationships. For example, about a year ago I answered @Choire (of the awesome @Awl) cry for help when his cat poop in his airplane carry on and he didn’t know what to do (get coffee grinds and a garbage bag from flight attendant). Now that’s a bonding moment. And locally, I’ve met some great folks through Twitter, including writers like @mat, @stevesilberman, and (former SF resident) @alexismadrigal; Twitter’s own @robinsloan; designer @Mike_FTW one of the funniest, most profane people on Twitter; and @burritojustice, who has an amazing blog of maps and public planning and local history. We haven’t met in person yet, but there’s talk of a play date to teach our 2 ½-year-olds to ice skate.
The other great thing about Twitter is how it helps our journalism. We’ve gotten tips and story ideas. To cite but two examples: When Mac was in Louisiana covering the BP spill she had people put her up and offer the use of their cars and boats. And our blogger @AdamWeinstein broke a huge story about an Indiana AG who was tweeting the suggestion that live ammo be used on #WIunion protesters because another person brought it to his attention.
For all those reasons, I’m mystified by how few magazine and newspaper editors are themselves on Twitter. Social media is becoming a main traffic driver for us, and certainly the online audience most likely to convert to subscribers or donors. I think you need to be in that mix to understand the implications it has for both your newsgathering and your revenue streams.
For the last few months, the aggregation I’ve been most impressed with has been our own. We started doing these “What’s Going on In Egypt/Libya/Wisconsin/Japan/etc” explainers because we honestly wanted to a) know ourselves b) pass along that information to readers. They’ve been wildly successful and much praised. At SXSW somebody high up at NYT digital told my co-editor @monikabauerlein that we’d done a better job figuring out how to aggregate on breaking news stories than anyone else. Thanks! We kind of fell ass-backwards into it, but it’s a form that’s really worked out for these crisis stories, where we combine our own original reporting and aggregating other sources into a lasting timeline/encyclopedia that’s useful to both total news junkies and Twitter addicts and people who need to catch up on the basics.
Weekly and monthly is all about the magazines. I subscribe to the Sunday (and therefore digital) edition of the New York Times—journalism is not free, people! Magazines, I get a lot: At home I subscribe to The Atlantic, National Geographic, The Week, GQ, The New Yorker, Wired, and Mother Jones (gotta keep tabs on sub fulfillment). At the office I get a whole bunch more including Esquire, New York, The Virginia Quarterly Review, the Economist, GOOD, The New Republic, Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Texas Monthly…. To follow their coverage and who’s writing for them, of course, but also to see what new forms and design elements they’re using.
We listen to a lot of NPR podcasts when we’re tooling around on the weekend: Fresh Air, To the Best of Their Knowledge (a great show more people should know about), This American Life, and Planet Money. I listen to the The Climate Desk podcast, which the folks from PBS’s Need to Know produce for this collaboration that we’re in with them, The Atlantic, Slate, Grist, Wired, and the Center for Investigative Reporting.
More and more I reserve Facebook for posting family pictures and hearing about friends’ actual lives, though I do post and read stories there. But since I don’t want to keep up with Facebook’s privacy nonsettings, I don’t let people I don’t know follow me.
I could not live without New York Times, NPR, Comedy Central. TV is my device to turn off the news junkie impulse. I watch a lot of terrible TV, including HGTV, Top Chef, and Project Runway. I do have some standards though: won’t watch Real Housewives or Jersey Shore. And then good shows like Mad Men and good/bad ones like Glee.
I make time for 30-45 minutes of book reading a night. But these days that’s pretty much the oeuvre of Maurice Sendak, Richard Scary, and Peggy Rathmann. At least it’s given me another way to try and sleep: Instead of counting sheep I compose children’s books. I’ve got a few good ones rattling around in there, but I never make it to the end of any one story. I start rewriting the beginning the next night.