How do people deal with the torrent of information pouring 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. This is drawn from a phone conversation with New York writer Kevin Roose, whose book Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street's Post-Crash Recruits was released last week.
Like everyone else, I look at my phone when I first wake up. It’s probably terrible, but I do it anyway. I first check my work email to see if anyone’s yelling at me, and then I check my personal email. I get about six or seven morning newsletters, which seems pretty retrograde or very '90s, but I actually like them because it’s what I read when I’m getting dressed, or whatever, and it’s an easy way to catch up. I get the Deal Book newsletter and Politico's Morning Money newsletter. I also get one about private equity, and a couple of others that come throughout the day. I’m based on the West Coast most of the time, but I work East Coast hours, so I’m up usually at 5 a.m., and even though I’m waking up so early, it already feels like I’m behind because everyone in New York is already writing and tweeting. So I try to very quickly catch up.
I don’t usually eat breakfast. I get the Wall Street Journal delivered, but I have to say that most of the time it just sits on the doorstep. If there’s something important and related to my beat I’ll usually have read it either the night before or early in the morning online, but I do get it delivered. I’m a New York Times digital subscriber, and I get New York magazine delivered, obviously, and Bloomberg Businessweek.
My routine starts at basically 5:30. I have this folder on my home toolbar that is called “AM”, and that has a series of bookmarks I've collected. I was never savvy enough to set up an RSS reader, so this is like a poor man’s RSS feed. It has, among other things, New York, The New York Times, and a few aggregators like Techmeme and StreetEYE, which has the trending Wall Street news.
My weird thing is that I like to look at the “Today’s Paper” section of The New York Times website, which tells you which article is on what page, because I find it sort of fascinating where newspapers choose to place stories. Sometimes it’s a surprise what will go on the front page, or maybe an important story will be buried on page E3 or whatever, so I like to look at that. I’ll go to Slate for more general stuff, but that’s usually one of the last things I visit. I’ll go to Quartz to see what their top stories are, and there’s a thing called fastFT that I was using for a while. That's part of the Financial Times’ website and is basically a headline machine. And then all the other sites, like The Atlantic’s business section.
I also love a few odd ones, like the National Bureau of Economic Research because they’ll post new papers and 90 percent of the time I don’t understand any of it, but once in a while there will be a really weird one about, like, the effects of Google Glass on household net income or something. There are some oddballs in there and whenever that happens, I like to write about them. I also look at the Price Gainers and Price Losers pages on Yahoo! Finance, and it’ll tell me which stocks are moving the most for that day and which are falling for that day. So I’ll look at that just to see if something like Abercrombie is falling 5 percent, that might make for a good post.
So that’s my morning. Sometimes I do about half of that, and sometimes I do all of it. Then I dig into Twitter and Facebook and try to get a grasp on what’s out there and what I should be writing about.
Articles often come from a conversation I’ll have with my editor. We have a group chat for the Daily Intelligencer, so all of us are in there starting in the morning, and that’s where all the ideas get batted around. We will throw in a link and someone else will say if that sounds good or if it sounds not really interesting. It’s actually very funny, the internal chatroom, so that’s the main source of entertainment during my day. But it's also very useful: I’ll put a couple of links in there and talk with my editors about what deserves attention and what can wait.
I do try to take time to read longer stuff during the day, especially if it's on my beat, and I think that I probably don’t do as much of that as I’d like to.
My essentials are The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. I don’t think any of us could live without those. Also, and I say this knowing I’m biased, but now that I don’t live in New York, I love reading New York magazine. It makes me feel like I’m in the city even when I'm 3,000 miles away, and it’s a great encapsulation of not only what’s going on in New York City, but also how New York City views the world. I love going through it on a Saturday and just remembering what it’s like to be in New York.
I have a standing desk and a sitting desk, that I custom built – basically a blogger cockpit. My setup is a standing desk on the left and sitting desk on the right, so I’ll usually rotate. I’ve read all the studies about how sitting is the worst thing, so I try to stand for half the day if I can. I used to do this sort of multi-monitor thing where I’d have TweetDeck on one monitor and other stuff on another, but I never felt like I was able to tear my eyes away from TweetDeck. So now I have two monitors, but I don’t use them at the same time, if that makes sense.
I try very hard to make Twitter a more productive place for me. We tend to think of Twitter as this disembodied thing that just happens to us, but we can actually control it. It’s something that’s supposed to be useful for us, so I’ve started organizing lists, for reporters and publications that I follow on certain beats. If I’m walking the dog, I don’t really care what’s happening to Japanese interest rates, so I’ve put those sorts of feeds and other high volume tweeters into lists and taken them off my main feed.
I think it’s a pretty good workflow. It used to be that I would not be able to tear myself away from Twitter and Facebook, and now I think I’m getting to a place that I accept that sometimes I’ll miss something. It used to be that I’d fear the moment I detoxed from Twitter would be the moment that someone important died or Mark Zuckerberg stepped down from Facebook, and then I’d be the doofus who wasn’t online for that, but that’s increasingly a risk I’m willing to take for my moment of sanity to sort of unplug. I’m willing to wager that nothing huge will happen. Though I will say I do have anxiety every time I turn on my phone after a detox.
I’ll cook dinner and have dinner, then I’ll get ready for the next day. Usually The New York Times and Wall Street Journal will throw out their next day stories around 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. California time. Most of my colleagues on the East Coast have probably gone to bed by then, which gives me an opportunity to get a bit of jump on the next day.
In terms of reading for fun, I have this huge pile of books I’ve been meaning to read so sometimes I’ll pluck off the top of that. Part of what’s so thrilling about having this book done is that I now get to read for pleasure. I couldn’t read similar books when I was writing, because if I do that, if I read something like David Foster Wallace while I'm writing a book, I start sounding like David Foster Wallace. I really had to take myself out of reading books unless I absolutely had to while I was writing mine. But now I can catch up on The Hunger Games. I read The Goldfinch, which was fantastic.
I also read GQ and Esquire for fun, and I try to read books my friends publish or things that get sent to me. The prospect of being able to do that is thrilling, with no intention of turning something into fodder for my blog mill. I’m really looking forward to reading things not related to my job. I think there’s a high correlation between that and remaining sane.
There are also two weirder things I love to read. There's Modern Farmer, this great and quirky magazine that makes me want to move to a farm or buy chickens for my backyard. And I still like reading my home newspaper. I come from a small town in Ohio, and our local newspaper is the best thing. On any given day the front page story will be “the firetruck got a new coat of paint” or “lightning strikes tree in someone’s backyard." I wish I could get it delivered to me in the Bay Area. It’s not only fun to go to the police blotter and look for my high school friends, but it’s also fun to see that there’s a world outside of media, and that there are people doing real things in other parts of the country. That’s a good reality check for me.
I like to think that about 10 percent of what I read is actually useful to me in the long term, so if I were smarter about it, I would ration myself to about 10,000 words a day of reading. Even that seems like a lot to me. I think probably that there’s a sweet spot, where you’re reading enough to be informed and to do your job, but not so much that you’re swimming in this sea of useless stuff. So now my goal is to find that sweet spot and stick to it.
I’m also one of those obnoxious cord cutters: I don’t have cable. But I do watch a lot of Netflix. The headings it gives me are always great, things like “Food Based Reality Shows.” I’ve been watching House of Cards, and I watched Orange Is The New Black. But I also have this fascination with low budget documentaries. There’s a lot of good stuff, and a lot of crap, so if I just need something to go to sleep, I’ll dredge up a real low budget documentary, and it’ll lull me to sleep.
I try not to read too much right before bed. I actually did this thing that [New York Times journalist] Nick Bilton suggested. He said they’ve confirmed that if you look at a screen before bed, you sleep like an hour less. It’s terrible for your sleep to look at a screen before bed. So I went and bought this cheap-o alarm clock, and my idea is that the main reason I keep my iPhone in my bedroom is to serve as an alarm, so if I have this thing that works the same way, I can actually leave my phone out there in my house, and I can sleep better. I haven’t actually plugged the alarm clock in yet, but I plan to do that in a near future. And when that happens, I think I’m going to institute a no screens in the bedroom rule, like everyone says you should.