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 from a conversation with Nick Confessore, the New York Times reporter who until recently covered state politics and is moving to national politics beat.
I wake up at about 6:30 a.m. or so, turn over, get my BlackBerry, I drop it, I pick it up again and then I check for early announcements from the campaigns, and scan some of the morning digests over email or online: Mike Allen’s Playbook, The Fix, Morning Score, and NBC's First Read. I’m still trying to figure out which ones I like best. The campaigns will sometimes put out early press releases, campaign finance filings, schedules, and I’ll make sure that I haven’t missed anything overnight. After that I go for a run or hit the gym, and then I start the real reading, at about 8 or 8:30 a.m.
I’m transitioning between beats right now, so I’m blending two media diets. I’ve been working on the Metro desk covering Albany, but I’m moving to cover national politics. Until recently, I read everything the correspondents in Albany filed for the daily papers. That meant the New York Daily News, the New York Post, the Albany Times Union, the Buffalo News, as well as the AP and Gannett. Most of those clips I get through State of Politics, which is a blog written by Liz Benjamin and some of her colleagues at Capital Tonight. She is a longtime New York reporter who anchors an evening political show. I skim most of the straight news coverage, which is mostly a replay of what I lived the previous day, and keep an eye out for smart enterprise and scoops. Albany has a secretive and tight political culture. You’ve got to really pay attention to the tea leaves that are being set, especially in the tabloids. That’ll tell you a lot about what happens behind closed doors. And most of what happens in Albany happens behind closed doors.
I read almost everything online. I love reading The Times in print and I almost never have time to do it, but I still subscribe out of a lifelong habit and love for the paper. While reading those clips I’m also on Twitter, and I’m tweeting what I’m reading from The Times and other outlets that I think add value for people that are following me. That’s scoops, context, information I haven’t had, humor.
Then on my new beat, I’m covering political fundraising and campaign finance, basically the world of political money. So as part of that I’m reading a lot of the other early reads from other national politics outlets. I have a Google alert for every other reporter who works on campaign finance. When they write, I read. There’s also a campaign finance and election law listserv run by Rick Hasen, a law professor at the university of California at Irvine. Each day he sends out a roundup of election-related news. Some of it is very technical, but what’s helpful is that he’ll find you stories about cases that are working their way through the local or district courts on campaign finance and election law.
Usually by 9:30 a.m. I’m out the door heading to work, in the city. Before I’ve left I’ve sent off a bunch of emails to people, lining up interviews or seeking clarification.
Like most reporters now, I rely on Twitter as my news wire. A lot of the competition, and us, breaks spot news on Twitter either before or at the same time as they go online with material. And you can customize it.
Before I started working at The Times in 2004, I lived in the world of magazines and opinion journalism in blog or long form. Most of the opinion writers I used to read in blog form, I now read on Twitter. I also follow Bronx Zoo Cobra and I wish it would get back on the job. I set a really high bar for opinion writing these days and I don’t spend a lot of time keeping up with it, I think partly because there’s so much of it, and a surprising amount of it is good. Gatekeeper opinion outlets are not as important or influential as they used to be. Nor do they have or pretend to have a monopoly on insight.
My magazine reading has also really suffered. I’m down to the Manhattan triumvirate of New Yorker, New York magazine, and The Times magazine as my weekly reads. But the longreads hashtag on Twitter has also become a really good filter for long-form journalism. And I always try to read what’s in the Washington Monthly, where I used to work. That’s where I keep up with folks who are doing stuff I want to read. What I’d probably kill for is a newsletter that only sent me five or six stories a day, in total, from everywhere. The stories that were the most essential reading, that really tell you something you don’t know about politics.
As for blogs, the folks I read closely are definitely the Caucus and City Room at The Times. Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman at Politico. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo is someone I read a lot. Gawker is a guilty pleasure, but io9, their science fiction blog, is an even guiltier pleasure.
I’m coming from a beat that I knew really well, where I felt fairly confident that I knew what was going on, and knew where to look and how to interpret things, to a beat where all that is more of a work in progress. It’s almost like learning how to walk again, a little bit. So I’m reading a lot more than I probably will in a year. Since changing beats I’ve gotten myself off a ton of email lists I never wanted to be on in the first place. And you know, if you cover any beat, I think, as a news reporter, it becomes a real exercise in triage as far as what you read. To find new people to follow, I try to keep an eye on the retweets and if somebody strikes my fancy I’ll grab it and follow them for a bit. And if somebody’s written a story that I like, I’ll follow them on Twitter for a bit to see if they’re a frequent or useful Twitterer.
For fun, I read almost no non-fiction books, and lots of fiction. I recently got sucked into a Game of Thrones kick that has taken up a lot of my time for pleasure reading. Before that I was working through Nick Hornby. This is the moment when I go blank and can’t remember the books I read last year, even though there are many of them.
As for television, sometimes I have Morning Joe on while I’m reading, but I watch almost no TV for work, which is something that’s going to have to change on my new beat. I’m almost always in motion, either for work or socially in the evenings, but I do watch TV. I definitely like the Thursday night lineup on NBC, with The Office. And I love Modern Family. I’m trying to love Falling Skies, but I’m not there yet.