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 drawn from a conversation with New York, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair contributing editor Vanessa Grigoriadis.
For the last few years I’ve been living in Los Angeles, so by the time I wake up it’s already work time in New York. My general habit is to roll over in bed, turn on my BlackBerry, look at my emails, and see if there’s anything that needs to be addressed quickly. Then I either sprint out of bed and start another great day or kind of lie there prone for a while and check the NYTimes.com. I generally get up and start making coffee and all that, and take my laptop with me into the kitchen. If I’m not closing something or have something actively happening that week in terms of reporting, I listen to NPR’s hourly news. Sometimes if I’m going to be cooking breakfast for a while I’ll put on these podcasts that The New Yorker has with Dorothy Wickenden. But if I have something that I’m really working on I generally go to Google News and check and make sure nothing’s broken over night, because I need to know that. It’s a really bad feeling if you don’t take care of that and your editor calls you at 11 o’clock and says, “Oh, hey, did you see this?” and you say, “No, I didn’t see it.” And maybe I’ll look at The New York Times front page more extensively on the computer. I have a subscription to The New York Times for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but during the week I’ll only buy one if I’m in an airport or if I have downtime.
I subscribe to Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone and New York magazine and The New Yorker. And I read, well, some of them. I definitely read the writers that I like in all of those publications. I’m pretty familiar with who they are and as soon as I see those names I want to read the story. Rolling Stone is almost like my guilty pleasure. As soon as it comes in the mail I read it.
I watch The Daily Show. Sometimes I’ll watch that on my laptop, sometimes in the afternoon. I watch a lot of the shows people like, like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, and I was addicted to The Wire. I’m reading The Privileges by Jonathan Dee, and The Submission by Amy Waldman. Janet Reitman wrote this great book on Scientology and she’s a friend of mine and I was pretty excited about finally reading that book. It took her a really long time. I’m a huge David Grann and Lawrence Wright fan. When I read their stuff, I always feel that it’s time worth spending, even if it’s a longer piece.
I check Facebook and Twitter quickly, just a quick run through. I try not to get stuck there, because I work in the morning through till lunchtime. I’ve been pretty proactive in the past few years about cutting myself off from just glazed-eyed web-surfing, because it’s completely useless for what I do for a living. I already have a hard time pulling myself back from doing way too much web research, which is basically a form of procrastination. I’ve started to figure out that if this is the seven thousandth time that I’ve run this name through Google, I’m not going to find anything else. The search results are definitely compromised at this point. You're just stuck in this morass of duplicate entries and this echo chamber where people are just adding their opinions to information that came from one source? What is OneIndia.com? And why are they always first in Google News results? So you try to figure out where the original story is and see if there’s anything else that wasn’t picked up. It’s obviously stuff you have to do when you’re reporting, but it’s really just covering bases, and I realized it was just eating up hours. When I do research, I do try to pull old magazine articles. Like if I’m doing a profile, I try to pull old GQ or Esquire or New Yorker profiles and not get lost on the Web trying to research things.
Nexis is also worse than it used to be because it includes a lot of duplicate entries and a lot of blogs that don’t have new information. But a good Nexis search is way better than web searching, unless you’re doing something that’s celebrity oriented. In that case, yeah, you do need to see what people have been chatting about and all the gossip. Google News is fine for that. If you put Katy Perry’s name in and you go back a month or two, you’ll be able to know every rumor about Katy Perry without actually having to keep up on that stuff yourself. I don’t read tabloids. I don’t have celebrities I follow. There was a time when I read Perez and Gawker but I don’t read those anymore. I’ve just realized that, as we all know, original reporting is the name of the game. You have to pick up the phone. I try to do a lot of stuff on the phone because it’s so easy for people to ignore your email.
I have a burn-as-many-trees-as-possible theory of journalism, which means that I print out a lot of stuff. Generally in the afternoons I read these 200-page Nexis searches or these old profiles or I look for biographies on people that I’m writing about or books. A lot of these I’m speed-reading. I'm not doing it for enjoyment. But that’s the kind of stuff that I would do being lazy on the couch and get through it in a few hours. I do that more late at night. Also there are the emails that I don’t feel like answering in the morning, where I spend the whole day worrying about what I should say. Then finally I get back to them in the evening. But sometimes there are times when I’m staring at the screen going “please somebody email me so I can talk to them.”
I wish I had a library card. I would love to have a library card to a university library, and see what they have in there and find deeper stuff. But they’re not that easy to get. Every few years I will say to some intern at some place that I’m working, “Hey, do you have a library card? Could you, like, give me your library card?” It’s a shame, because journalists really should have access to them. And public libraries are pretty but slow. You have to order everything, and it’s incredibly expensive to Xerox it. They should have a journalist card. Even JSTOR. Anything. How do you get this stuff, to put your features in a different realm? We all know how to do it, and how you do it is you start getting some journals, and you start looking for academic books that have a historical perspective, and it’s not that easy to do that. I’m just going to set aside a million dollars right there to get us all library cards.
I’ve written a lot for Rolling Stone in the past few years. They generally do not put their features online, but they do put a teaser up with a few little tidbits that they thiunk will make some news, although they miss a lot of the other stuff. And those tidbits will go far and wide. Thousands of places will republish them. And yet not one person will pick up the actual magazine. And if you picked it up you would realize there’s six other things in there that are going to make news. Or maybe they don’t--I don’t know how that game works--maybe they don’t make news. Maybe you put it up and nobody cares unless you’re Perez or something like that. But it’s incredible. If it’s not on the Web it’s like it’s in invisible ink. I just more and more feel like you’re hurting yourself by being too involved in it. Obviously I’m not speaking for people who are hardcore bloggers, where they have to do 20 posts a day, but still. Looking at what everybody else is doing is never a good idea.