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 conversation with Jenna Wortham, a New York Times tech reporter.
Most mornings, I wake up around 7 or 7:30 a.m. and check the news on my iPhone. I usually sleep with my laptop nearby, but the phone is quicker. If its relatively quiet in my beat -- i.e. nothing that would warrant filing a quick blog post or might elicit a call from the news desk -- I go back to sleep for a little while, or if its warm enough, I’ll go for a quick jog.
I rely heavily on text alerts to keep me from missing important tech news. I've set a few select Twitter feeds to push their tweets to my phone via SMS from 7 in the morning till 2 at night. It drives my friends, family and everyone I've ever dated absolutely crazy, but it works as a kind of early warning system for news. If there's big news breaking in the tech world, the rapid-fire series of pings clues me in. I’m a big fan of making my phone do as much work as possible in delivering relevant information to me, instead of me having to go out and fetch it constantly, and this is my best hack for that. Plus, I like knowing that I'm not likely to miss out on some big news event – and it’s never let me down. (When Steve Jobs died, for example, I was in my evening writing workshop, but I could feel my phone blowing up in my bag. So I fished it out of my bag, saw the tweets and bolted for the office.) I listen to music while I get dressed. I’ve done that since high school. It prepares me for the long day ahead. No matter how many Web and print deadlines loom ahead, shaking my shoulders to Tyga or Beyoncé helps wake me up and lightens the mood.
Then I leave the house and head to the subway. During the ten minutes it takes me to walk to the train, I’ll quickly check Twitter for the news of the day, Tumblr for reactions to the news and Instagram for social news, to see if anything is heating up that might make for a good daily story or blog post -- a big news event, a backlash to something, a particularly timely meme, viral video or some other important topic. Increasingly, I’m also using Path for news. It’s fascinating – and often very revealing -- to see what the early adopter crowd is doing and how they’re spending their time.
During the first half of my commute, I listen to podcasts on my ride into the city. I use a terrific app called Instacast to keep track of the ones I like -- RadioLab and Julie Klausner's "How was Your Week" -- you can stream them or download them to listen offline. I also read most of the New York Times through our iPhone app on my commute in. I skim tech first and then try to get caught up in everything else -- the Metro section, the magazine and Op-Ed are my favorites. I make myself read the politics section -- my least favorite subject -- but I try to absorb at least an article a day. I always have a copy of the latest New York magazine (adore "In Season" and "The Neighborhood News") and the New York Times Magazine in my bag and often read those on the way. For the second leg, I start preparing myself for the office. I reply to as many emails as I can in the last 15-20 minutes of my ride.
Once I get to work, around 10, I open Twitter and Facebook -- these stay open throughout the day and I stick my head back into them repeatedly to keep an eye out for any news that might be bubbling up. I’ve got several secret Twitter lists that I use to help filter the news. The two that are the most useful contains all the founders, investors and start-ups that I'm keeping a close eye on and the other is full of reporters, tech and beyond, whose work I admire, so that I can see what they're tweeting about and linking to. I favorite about 50 things (or more) a day on Twitter -- articles to read, ideas I liked, books to read, songs. I use ifttt recipe to send my Twitter faves to my Gmail inbox so I can sift through them later.
I’m invisible on Gchat for an hour or so while I have breakfast and skim my trades -- Hacker News, Reddit, GigaOm, The Verge, Gizmodo, BetaBeat, BuzzFeed FWD, TechCrunch, Techmeme, All Things D and The Atlantic Wire. I rarely use any RSS readers or apps anymore -- I’ve had a hard time working them into my daily routine. They're more for the weekend when I can take a nosedive into the Internet and not care where I end up. During the week, I need to get in and out of the news efficientially. While I skim, I take notes the old-fashioned way: With a fine-point Sharpie and a stack Post-it notes. I do a lot of pattern matching -- emerging themes among new start-ups, the types of companies that are getting funded, a VC or entrepreneur catches my eye -- and make a note or a list, and I keep these in a row on my desk for easy reference. For my beat, I need to see what new service or app is bubbling up and pay attention to how people are using the web, their mobile devices and new technologies, but it can often take awhile for things to catch on, so I'm constantly monitoring for that groundswell when a new service or behavior breaks out beyond my professional and social circle and starts to catch on in a bigger way. I often take photos of these handwritten notes and file them in a separate folder on my iPhone for easy perusal later.
I can definitely be an analog girl in a digital world. I keep a fresh Steno notebook for each cluster of stories and blog posts I’m working on each week, and I always keep a graph-paper Rhodia notebook on me for longer to-do lists, general observations, story ideas. I avoiding spending a lot of time in my inbox -- it’s the equivalent quicksand -- so instead, I keep an eye on the emails to address anything urgent that comes in and make a list of people to reply to via email during a late-afternoon coffee break or before bed at the end of the night. My best sources know that text and DM are the easiest and most surefire ways to get in touch and get a response. If there's no breaking news that requires immediate attention, I'll file a blog post or two and then transition into interviews and reporting for the features I'm working on that week and calls and meetings with sources that last until late afternoon, when I have lunch. Then, I’ll go back to those same sites and see what I’ve missed.
During lunch, I check in on my favorite writers. In my regular rotation each week: Willa Paskin at Salon, Mary H.K. Choi at MTV and Wired, Edith and everyone at The Hairpin, Mat Honan at Gizmodo, Parislemon, Amanda Peyton on Tumblr, Robin Sloan’s blog, Shortform blog, Chris Dixon, Silicon Filter, Anil Dash, Waxy.org, Liz and Peter at All Things D, Guernica, The New Inquiry, Jonah Lerer, Clive Thompson, Vulture’s Mad Men and Game of Thrones recaps, The New Yorker’s Culture Desk, the picks of Longform, Rembert Browne and Jay Caspian King at Grantland, Anthony de Rosa at Reuters, David Carr and Brian Stelter, RConversation, Daring Fireball, Farhad Manjoo, Fred Wilson, Matt Buchanan and John Herrman at BuzzFeed FWD, Matt Stopera, Whitney Jefferson and Katie Notopoulos at BuzzFeed, Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic, Rebecca Greenfield at The Atlantic Wire, Tim Carmody at Wired, Kashmir Hill at Forbes, to name a few. I really admire iPad apps like Longform and Percolate. Lately, I use Pocket or Flipboard to see if I can unearth any new content that I should be paying attention to, although between Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, I get sent down enough unusual and satisfying rabbit holes to keep me awash in new content. Although there's sometimes a distraction, sometimes spending 15-20 minutes just clicking my way through the dank underbelly of the Web, looking at GIFs, videos and seeing what other people are spending their time on is the most fun and rewarding part of my day. I truly love the Internet. It's a deep, palpable love of everything that spews forth from it.
Most non-work related stuff I don’t have time to read during the day, so I use a Chrome extension called Klip.me -- which basically works like Instapaper -- to save all the long features, magazine pieces, TV recaps to my Kindle, so I can read them on my subway ride home. I’m on a few private Google newsgroups about technology and I skim those towards the end of the day to see what the chatter is about. I’m also fascinated by the new Kickstarter social features that show you what people are backing, that seems important and useful information about what people want to buy and see in their lives. I mostly follow my friends on Tumblr, but I also follow a lot of random accounts, like SofaPizza, Frank Ocean's Tumblr, a lotta teenage fashion bloggers in the UK and around the world. The kinds of things they post and their sense of humor and aesthetic is so different from what I'm used to seeing that I find it fascinating.
At the end of the day, I crave time away from the screen. I’ll go on a run, or to a show, or a tech event or a drinks thing to catch up with friends -- and although we mostly wind up talking about the things we’ve seen or read online, it feels better to actually discuss the content we’re consuming and creating all day in a group than try to digest it on your own. When I get home, I put on music or another podcast while I make dinner. I might videochat with friends in San Francisco or my friend Becca, a fashion designer who works from home in Brooklyn. I decompress with an episode of Mad Men, Happy Endings, Game of Thrones and Netflix nostalgia picks like Grey’s Anatomy, Roseanne or Basketball Wives. If I’m lucky, I'll shoehorn 20-30 minutes in before bed with a book. I just finished the hauntingly beautiful The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuściński and The Boys of My Youth by JoAnn Beard and I’m starting a book called Insurgent, a post-apocalyptic YA book by an author named Veronica Roth that is better that The Hunger Games, I swear.
During the week, I get all of my news online. On Sundays, I read the Sunday Times, cover to cover, either in my local coffee spot in Brooklyn or I pick up a copy from a bodega and head to the park. I'm also obsessed with independent print media, so I buy a lot of zines in stores and online -- I regularly read things by the New Herring Press, Bushwick Review, Put an Egg On It, Butt magazine, to name a few. I rarely use my iPad. I often bring it into bed with me and it's bad enough that I sleep with my phone, my laptop and sometimes my Kindle. I can't add another device into that mix. It's also purely for consumption. It feels leisurely in a weekend way -- but some of the newer apps, like the Longform app, are supremely beautiful and I’ll play around with it if I have time before bed.
In all, I’m probably on one screen or another, consuming some form of news -- social or otherwise -- from the moment I’m awake until the time I go to bed. But most of the time, it doesn't feel like work to me, I genuinely get excited and inspired and motivated by the articles, GIFs, riffs on GIFS and other multitude of conversations that are happening on so many different levels and places around the Web.