How do other people deal with the torrent of information that pours down on us all? What sources can't they live without? We regularly reach out to prominent figures in media, entertainment, politics, the arts and the literary world, to hear their answers to these questions. This is drawn and condensed from a conversation with Joan Walsh, the editor-at-large of Salon and author of the forthcoming book Indivisible.
The first place I go to read in the morning is Twitter. My feed combines news from San Francisco Giants baseball to Middle East uprisings to the latest from passionate fans and detractors of President Obama. Even though I try to follow a diverse set of people, I follow a lot of liberals and a lot of them are at the intersection of politics and culture.
Since I'm working on my book right now, I've been really focused on the economy and have been following writers and bloggers like Jared Bernstein, Robert Reich, Brad DeLong, Ezra Klein and Paul Krugman. On Twitter, I probably follow too many people for it to be an efficient way to keep on top of everything, but I feel like the people I trust out in the world are constantly bringing me the things that I need to know.
Let me be clear, though: I go to The New York Times website at least twice a day to look at the front page to see what they're covering and what's changed, because I think there's no substitute for seeing everything in context. During the Anthony Weiner scandal if you were on Twitter you'd think it was the only thing anybody was covering, but if you went to The Times, you discovered there was lots of other great stuff to read. That's something I miss about a newspaper: that feeling of picking up the front page.
The crazy thing that happens on Twitter--it's an old school journalist's worst nightmare--is that people are just spreading rumors. So having good journalists (Anthony De Rosa comes to mind) who are filters and say either "I got someone on the phone to confirm this" or "The New York Times has confirmed 'X'" is important. Mark Knoller and Jake Tapper are good and fast with important stuff if you're really trying to follow a breaking story. They aren't just shilling for their own news organizations, which I think is important.
I do force myself to kind of get out of my self-reinforcing Twitter stream. At those times, I check in at places like National Review online and with people like David Frum and Mike Murphy who will give interesting opinions from the right. I'm interested in conservatives who are actually grappling with what's going on in their own party. When I say "get out of my narrow stream" I also mean just looking at mainstream media sites outside of Twitter so that I'm not just getting a stream that doesn't develop any new interests.
On my web browser, my homepage is still Salon. One of the great things about not being the editor anymore is that I get to just be a reader and follow the great work of Alex Pareene, Justin Elliott, Steve Kornacki, Laura Miller and others. The funny thing with starting my reading day at Twitter and Salon is that I could never look at anything else and still end up following links all over the blogosphere and the media world. Typically, following those links takes me to places like Talking Points Memo and to David Weigel's blog. Weigel is great as a source of links to other smart people as well as links to his own work when he writes something new.
As for books, I just read a Civil War history called America Aflame, which I love very much. I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks because so many people recommended it to me and read Pat Buchanan's memoir because he sent it to me--and it's relevant to my book. I also recently read Sean Wilentz's The Rise of American Democracy. Outside of work, I watch a lot of San Francisco Giants baseball.
I'm trying to get offline earlier and earlier because I feel like I get sucked in and spend way too much time there. I know that I need to start building boundaries between work time and engagement time with my family--and sleep--and being online 24/7 isn't really conducive to getting concentrated work done on a book.