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 Navy Adm. James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Commander, U.S. European Command.
When I get up, the first thing I do is open up Gmail and check my personal email. Next I go through the headlines with Google News, which I find to be very accurate and broad-based. I have cues set at the moment for Afghanistan, the Balkans, Syria, Libya, Russia, piracy, cyber, missile defense, and a few other topics. After that, I'll read a compilation of daily news clips from various sources throughout Europe. I am also an active blogger: my latest effort is a post about Afghanistan; but I write about everything from the Balkans to piracy to summer reading lists and leadership successes and failures—including my own.
Over a cup of coffee, I’ll then turn to my BlackBerry and my official email accounts to clear the myriad of messages that will have arrived overnight.
Over a second cup of coffee, I’ll quickly skim the news and editorial pages of four papers online: The Washington Post, The New York Times, France's Le Figaro and Spain's El Pais—the latter two help me practice my working-level facility in those languages.
I am a huge consumer of social networks and I utilize Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I'm interested and am learning more about Tumblr and other visually dominant sites. I have about 15,000 friends or followers, who form a wonderfully broad group of people with whom I can share ideas and get fresh perspectives. This crowd is not shy about sharing opinions on what I write, which usually spurs me to dig even deeper into a topic.
As the day progresses, I get about a dozen or so hourly updates from various news services which hit my BlackBerry. I also keep CNN International going full time on background in my office. Although I have limited time to watch television, I’ve been watching Hala Gorani, a Syrian-American who hosts a very good international show on CNN. On PBS I like Robert Nolan’s Great Decisions series. Also, Ken Burns’ documentaries are amazing in their ability to evocate with images and music.
At the end of the day, I'll read The International Herald Tribune, which is the English-language “paper of record” here in Europe. I’ll also look over Stars & Stripes, a European-focused military daily newspaper with a rich history that is kind of like the military’s hometown paper when we are serving overseas.
I enjoy reading many columnists, but I regularly follow David Brooks, David Ignatius, Fareed Zakaria, Kathleen Parker, John Hamre, David Gergen, James Traub and Peggy Noonan. On the lighter side I like Chris Buckley (also one of the funniest novelists in America) and Dave Barry (ditto). For nonfiction books, I often turn to some of these columnists.
For periodicals, at the top of my list is The Economist, which I think word for word is the best written magazine for international relations in the world. I'm also a big fan of The New Yorker, especially for short fiction and poetry. I like Foreign Affairs published by the Council on Foreign Relations, of which I am a member.
The Atlantic is also very good, and I'm not just saying that -- I've been a steady reader for over 30 years, and somewhere I have a few rejection slips from my early days both for short stories and nonfiction. I do try to write a little bit every day. Over the years I’ve managed to publish several books on topics ranging from ship handling to Latin American affairs and many articles. I have yet to publish any fiction, but I’m still hopeful.
I tend to gravitate toward reporters who cover all aspects of the story: from personal aspects to the big picture that answer the 'so what' of a story. I appreciate those who do their homework so the interview is an informed conversation from which we both learn. I have much less respect for those agenda-driven reporters who try for the short term "hit" without regard for context.
Additionally, there are times when the media get it wrong. The same is true in the military, of course. But, when a mistake is made I look for that organization or reporter to do the right thing by way of a correction or clarification to ensure the reader gets the real picture.
I enjoy the work done at Wired's Danger Room. I've been mentioned there a few times both positively and negatively however, I think they generally call 'em like they see 'em and have a good sense of humor with a healthy dash of irony: both good things.
I've never been in a "Twitter fight" though I've witnessed my fair share. I do enjoy vigorous and informed debate but the benefit is lost when the exchange becomes a series of petty ad hominem attacks. I don't see much value in it.
I am also a big reader of fiction, and enjoy accurate historical fiction, which affords a chance to learn history painlessly. Generally, make time to read at least one novel a week. Lately I've read The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, and The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker, both coming-of-age novels by young American novelists. I also like the sea-going novels of Patrick O'Brian, like any Navy officer. Other authors I enjoy and read repeatedly include George MacDonald Fraser, Cormac McCarthy, John Updike, Ha Jin, Gary Shteyngart, Elmore Leonard (going strong at 85) and Ian Fleming, among many others.
I also read poetry, especially from countries I am visiting in my current job (about 80 over the past several years). For example, before a recent trip to Madrid I went back and read some of the work of Frederico Garcia Lorca. I just read a book of poetry from a decade ago by Carl Dennis called Practical Gods which impressed me. W.B. Yeats still amazes me with the freshness of his vision a century after much of his work was published.
Before bed, I’ll try to read an article or two from the top military journals. As a Navy Officer, I am partial to the U.S. Naval Institute magazine, Proceedings, as well as the Army’s top journal, Military Review.
For legal purposes, Col. Martin Downie, an Army spokesman, noted that Stavridis's views "are those of the author alone, in his personal capacity, and do not reflect the official policy of any military organization, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government."