How do people deal with the torrent of information that rains down on us all? What's the secret to staying on top of the news without surrendering to the chaos of it? In this series, we ask people who seem well-informed to describe their media diets. This contribution is from Gabe Rivera, creator of Techmeme, Memeorandum, and Mediagazer.
My media diet will look obsessive to the average person, but familiar to news editors and bloggers. As a weekend and intermittent weekday editor of Techmeme, I need to stay up-to-the-minute on what's happening in technology. And when Techmeme's other editors relieve me of that task, my job still requires a thorough, if not real-time, awareness of what's happening in technology and media.
Like most editors of online news media, the first step in the morning, or really after any extended break from reading, is to get caught up. Perhaps it goes without saying, but catching up is a very different reading activity from what you do once you're caught up. The goal is to get a quick, high level view of what's most important, which is hard to obtain from Twitter, RSS readers, or other streams of news. Catching up instead benefits from a hierarchical view of news, in which important topics are emphasized over the less important. Newspapers have provided this for centuries, and continue doing so on their websites. Human-edited aggregators like the Drudge Report the Huffington Post also offer hierarchical views, as do automated aggregators like Google News, and semi-automated aggregators like Techmeme and Mediagazer.
I get caught up primarily through (yes, sorry) Techmeme, which provides on a single page all the day's essential stories across the broader tech industry. Unsurprisingly, getting caught up through Techmeme is the best preparation for resuming editing of Techmeme. I could write at length here about the kind of sources that appear most on Techmeme, but they're tallied up rather neatly on Techmeme's source leaderboard. Of course there are other hierarchical views of technology news, like CNET News's front page and community sites like Reddit. Aside from Techmeme, probably the most useful one for me is Hacker News, which is basically a Reddit for young people interested in building tech startups.
Once caught up, I'm in a kind of informational steady state, in which I depend primarily on real-time news streams. This of course means Twitter, and for me, not RSS readers, which Twitter has entirely supplanted. I don't closely "follow" the 1,324 Twitter users I'm following. (My following them is more of a social gesture, and permits them to send me direct messages.) Instead I rely heavily on Twitter's excellent list feature to simultaneously follow smaller sets of users. At all times, I maintain at a glance multiple Twitter timelines corresponding to lists with names like "tech-breaking" (which includes tech news sources like @techcrunch, @alleyinsider, and @daringfireball) "tech-media-backchannel" (including writers like @joshuatopolsky, @arrington, @marshallk, @parislemon, @mathewi, and the infamous @scobleizer), moguls (@nicknotned, etc.) and "general" (including @wsj, @nytimes, @breakingnews, @pkedrosky, @felixsalmon, @mediagazer, @urlesque, @gawker, and more). By the way, if you look at my Twitter profile, you won't see these lists; I keep them all private. Not so much to protect a competitive advantage, but because privacy just feels right here.
I believe it takes a combination of two technologies to consume Twitter lists most effectively. The first is a good Twitter client that displays lists in columns. I use Seesmic Web for this, a flexible web-based Twitter client that also lets you include columns from other services like Foursquare. The second is a large, preferably second monitor. I use three monitors, and will add a fourth the moment Apple's 27-inch LED Cinema Display goes on sale.
My media diet apart from tech news is rather paltry and probably needs improvement. I wish I found the time to read more books, but I do get through several each year, generally books on food, business, marketing, tech, and media. The most recent books I've read in full are probably Say Everything by Scott Rosenberg, and before that, G. Pascal Zachary's Showstopper!. Because half the books I read are sent to me as review copies, and I just don't read too many books between successive Kindle generations, I haven't yet made the leap to digital books.
Watching video is an activity I usually pair with mundane tasks like working out and cooking. I maintain a list of videos to watch later (found through tweets or blog posts), and watch them on my desktop computer when the opportunity arises. The only TV show to which I give my undivided attention is Mad Men. Though I don't own an actual "television," I haven't missed a single episode.