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 journalists who seem well-informed to describe their media diets. This is from a conversation with Mother Jones Washington bureau chief and Politics Daily columnist David Corn.
Here's how the day starts. I wake up. I complain I haven't slept enough. I reach for the damn iPhone. I check email. I'm looking to see if there's any news I'll have to deal with that morning. And I'll glance at Twitter to see if anything has happened in the minutes before I brush my teeth.
Increasingly, I receive my news via incoming alerts--either email or tweets. So if the New York Times or the Washington Post has a major article in that day's paper, I'll probably receive a link to it before I reach the hard copy resting on my front walk. Reading Mike Allen's Playbook email causes to me to feel as if I am fully up-to-speed on all things political between 8:00 am and 10:00 am. (Washington journalists to Allen: you complete me.) Also kudos to MSNBC's First Read and ABC's The Note. Still, I try to glance at the dead-tree version of the Post and Times in the AM, checking first (of course) "Reliable Sources" in the Post and looking for any stories that have fallen through the social media cracks. I do feel much smarter on those mornings when I have the chance to read through a newspaper. Very old-school, I know.
On the days I drive to work, I listen to NPR or C-SPAN radio. (Thanks to C-SPAN for airing British Question Time the other morning; it was far more entertaining than any Shock Jock in the Morning Show.) When I am decreasing my carbon footprint by riding Metro, I finish reading the newspapers. (No thank you, Mr. Express Guy, I've brought my own.) Or I return to email and Twitter, looking to see what's been sent my way.
First things first at the office--after grumbling good morning to all--it's social media time. Using Facebook and Twitter, I send out alerts about what I've written for either Mother Jones or PoliticsDaily.com and what the Mother Jones Washington bureau has produced for our daily website. After imbibing and creating all this social media, it's finally time for work.
During the day, as I report, write, edit, manage, and punditize, I keep an eye on Twitter, Facebook, and cable news (MSNBC or CNN)--while contending with a barrage of email. When I have a spare moment, I may check sites to see if there's any news I need to deal with or laugh at: Huffington Post, Drudge, Salon, Slate, NewYorkTimes.com, WashingtonPost.com, PoliticsDaily.com, Romenesko, CNN's Political Ticker, Talking Points Memo, RealClearPolitics, Politico, TechPresident, Foreign Policy, The Washington Monthly, The American Prospect, National Review, ThinkProgress.
I'll also drop in on bloggers Glenn Reynolds, Kevin Drum, and Andrew Sullivan and then jump over to see what else is happening at TheAtlantic.com. But let me be clear, it's far more common that I'll spot a reference to something of interest from these and other sites or blogs on Twitter and follow the link. I do much less free-form scanning than in bygone days. Does this make me lazy? I think of it this way: in trudging through the hyper-cluttered media environment, I'll take all the help I can get. Would you say no to a sherpa?
For me, magazines and books are victims of digital media. I still subscribe to The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, Harper's, The Nation, National Geographic, Vanity Fair, and other periodicals. (I get Mother Jones for free.) But they're mostly there for comfort. They sit around the house; I poke at them once in a while. But most of their prominent articles I ingest on-line. As for books, I have Doug Brinkley's latest on Teddy Roosevelt the environmentalist (The Wilderness Warrior) and Thomas Pynchon's recent novel (Inherent Vice) close to the bed. But I make slower progress on non-electronic devices these days. There's too much on YouTube to watch. (Did you see that guy juggling frogs while singing Clash songs?) On the runway--though delayed for take-off--are the new DeLillo and Hornby novels.
Never before in the history of the known universe has there been so much information available to us humans. And never before has it been so difficult to process all the information we receive. Some consultant recently told me that the average American is bombarded with 4000 messages a day (fact-checkers, back me up on this.) Those of us who are informationalists--people who work with information professionally--must be assaulted more often. The toughest challenge, I find, is wading out of the cresting information river to experience media for frivolity's sake or simply escaping the churning waters altogether for a few moments. If I manage to do either, it's usually after tending to the dishes in the kitchen late at night. Then I head to bed, look at that stack of books, feel a pang of guilt, and shut out the light. I do miss reading. Nowadays, we absorb.