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. Lizzie O'Leary, a Washington D.C.-based correspondent for Bloomberg Television, spoke to us from Natchez, Mississippi, where she was covering the recent floods.
I usually wake up around 4:30 or 5 in the morning because I do a lot of morning TV, and the first thing I do, before I'm even out of bed, is roll over, look at my iPhone, look at the top and most read stories on Bloomberg, and read through my Twitter feed for 15 or 20 minutes, which tends to give me a pretty good sense of what people are talking about in the journalism and business world pretty quickly. The sad thing is I subscribe to The New York Times and The Washington Post but I leave the house sometimes before they're even there. I'm a dual iPad/iPhone person, so on either one I'll also usually read the top few stories at the Times and the Post.
During the day, things are coming at me fairly constantly. There are four main categories: 1) stuff coming through my Twitter feed (I have TweetDeck up all the time, and I usually get news quicker from Twitter than from the wires); 2) the wires: Bloomberg and the AP; 3) if they get to the house before I'm out the door, the Post and the Times, and I tend to steal The Wall Street Journal from colleagues; 4) stuff I want to read or stuff that pertains to a story I'm currently working on. So, for example, I read the Times-Picayune every day when I was covering the oil spill in New Orleans and now I'm reading The Tennessean and The Clarion-Ledger because I'm covering the floods.
The oil spill was actually the first time I came to understand the power of Twitter and started using it personally to get reporting tips. You'd see something pop up about oil coming ashore on Grand Terre or Grand Isle and you could get over there. Otherwise you'd be calling the sheriff's department, who might not have wanted to tell you where the oil was. When I started covering the oil spill I didn't know anything about petroleum engineering, and a hydraulic engineer started following me and an oil engineer from Texas started sending me information. They turned into real sources and helped me read through the data that I got my hands on.
On Twitter, Heidi Moore is great on the business side. For national security stuff, Marc Ambinder is ahead of the game. Rachel Sklar, who is a friend of mine, is a one-woman media industry and tech news source. There's also a group of Hill journalists who I follow and play with: Olivier Knox, Jake Tapper, Brian Beutler. I also follow Anna Holmes fairly religiously. I have real-life friendships and working relationships that sprouted from digital ones, like Mac McClelland from Mother Jones. We met because we were both covering the oil spill together, and she's done stuff in Haiti, Uganda, the Congo. She's taken Twitter reporting to new forms--little microbursts of storytelling. I follow a ton of politicians because they often make announcements that way; they tend to scoop themselves a lot. And I follow a lot of comedians: Neal Brennan, Liana Maeby, Tyler Coates, Aasif Mandvi, who was my date to the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Twitter is a valuable source for knowing what people are talking about and getting information fast, but I never ever trust it because it's really easy for someone to tweet 'loud explosion' and then for 30 people to retweet it, and then you can't tell who the source is or where it came from or whether someone just heard a car backfire.
I have some internal Bloomberg alerts if there's a story or a stock I'm following and I find Politico's Morning Money very helpful; it seems to have the most substance--actual policy nuggets--as opposed to gossip. I use Facebook but Twitter has my professional persona in it. Facebook I'm very restrictive with. I want to see pictures of my friend’s babies in my Facebook feed, not my colleagues' work.
Apart from Bloomberg's programming, of course, I watch the NewsHour (I am my mother) and listen to NPR when I can. I'm an NPR alum and I really like the storytelling, especially Marketplace and All Things Considered.
At the end of the day I have to disengage and go do yoga or read fiction or a magazine, otherwise I swear my attention span gets trained to be too short. I used to read a lot of biography and non-fiction and current events but now that I'm in that world constantly I'm reading Wallace Stegner (currently The Angle of Repose) and Billy Collins poems. I need something that moves at a completely different pace.
I subscribe to Foreign Policy at work--it was one of those things that just started arriving and now I love it--and I subscribe to Mother Jones because of Mac. Honestly when I saw how good her reporting was I wanted to read the rest of the magazine. I did subscribe to The New Yorker but now I have it on my iPad because I felt guilty about New Yorkers piling up. I like the iPad because I travel so much and it's easy to Instapaper stuff and read it on the plane, but I like it more for avoiding back pain. Honestly, I really enjoy the physical act of reading a newspaper or magazine. The tactile Sunday Times-cup-of-coffee-on-couch thing cannot be replaced. I feel like I pay more attention to the words then.
I also love my lady blogs: I love Jezebel and The Hairpin, which shared my obsession with the 'Aflockalypse' and always had a new story about birds falling from the sky. I love The Good Wife and, like all media people, I love The Wire. I like Treme and feel like I should like it more because I spent so much time in New Orleans. I TiVo The Daily Show because I can't stay up that late.
I think the new media landscape changes my role as a consumer of news more than it does as a reporter of news. I feel more connected when I'm able to watch real-time feeds from Egypt; it's an incredibly powerful experience. As a reporter you're more aware of what's around you but, since I was trained by a crusty old guy who wouldn't let us call PR people ever, I'm always a little nervous about whether the new environment makes me a better reporter or whether there's a tendency toward laziness that can come with things being readily available. I'm a hyperactive tweeter but a lot of it is me being a complete goofball. The stuff I'm working on--the serious or important stories--I'll save them and hone them and craft them before I'll ever tweet them. I still really care about the construction of a story. I follow about 700 people, and the entire world would keep plugging along if none of us were communicating. I think that's something we should all be actively aware of.
I also find that as much as I love this stuff and find it incredibly addicitive, I'm aware of how it's changed my media metabolism and self-consciously aware of the need to unplug--to take a day off and go fly fishing and not look at anything. I'm currently watching an extraordinary event right in front of me: Two people are trying to unbury a grain elevator that's pretty much submerged. It's a big mess.