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 people who seem well-informed to describe their media diets. This is from a conversation with Mark Armstrong, founder of Longreads, a community dedicated to helping readers find and share the best long-form nonfiction on the web.
Running Longreads has dramatically changed my online behavior. Or, perhaps more accurately, I launched the site because my online behavior had already changed: I had started "reading" the web, rather than just grazing and skimming. I was seeking out deeper, more substantive content that required more than a 5-minute investment.
This all happened thanks to a 40-minute subway commute and the "read later" iPhone app Instapaper. (If you take anything away from this, it's that Instapaper and Read It Later are the greatest apps ever invented.) Now, rather than seeking quick distractions, I hunt for content that I can enjoy outside of work, during my downtime, or whenever the mood strikes me.
Most weekday mornings, the first thing I'm reading is my iPhone. I'll start with a quick check of the Twitter app, dipping into the real-time stream and checking the latest stories that readers have shared using the #longreads hashtag. (It's for sharing any outstanding story between 1,500 and 30,000 words.)
Then I'll put the phone down, make coffee and talk to the other humans in the house. Next media engagement is at around 7:50 a.m., where we watch the last 10 minutes of Sesame Street.
At 8 a.m., everything moves to my work screen: The MacBook. Chrome is my browser of choice, and I start with Google Reader; I don't care what anyone says about RSS, it's still the easiest way to find out what's going on in the world. In this case, I'm checking feeds for more than 200 publishers that reliably post great long-form content. (More on them in a moment.)
Next, I'll open tabs for all the curators in my life: Metafilter, Drudge Report, Give Me Something to Read, The Browser, Longform.org, Kottke, Arts & Letters Daily, and LadyJournos. Esquire's Chris Jones introduced me to Gangrey.com a couple years ago, and it's still one of my favorite stops for finding new writers and outstanding journalism being produced by actual print newspapers. (Most recently: William Browning, Casper Star-Tribune.)
The two most addictive sites, for me, are still Techmeme and Mediagazer. They know that curation in its purest form—linking to other sources without trying to sneak in your own pageviews—is a valuable service and appreciated by readers. Their pages are quick to load, easy to scan and comprehensive. And their mobile versions are perfect for quick glances on the iPhone. I salute you, Gabe Rivera and Megan McCarthy.
Another tab belongs to the Tumblr Dashboard, which stays open for a good portion of the day, and is usually good for news updates from Soup and Paula Deen riding things. Another favorite is the Front Pages Tumblr—I'll go there to scan the print editions of all the major papers. In fact, this is how I usually interact with the Los Angeles Times. Nothing personal: I just know that if the Times is going to do an epic story (like, say, something by Joe Mozingo), it's going to appear in Column One, which is usually in the same spot on the front page. Print products still have excellent visual cues like this that have yet to be replicated online.
The final tabs in my browser belong to The New York Times and the Awl. I'm already a subscriber to the Mid-Bimonthly Weekender Weekend Weekender, so the new digital metered plan shouldn't change much. (And yes, as confusing as their new system is, I do insist on paying them.)
I've raved enough about The Awl, but let's do it again. It's where I've discovered about 90 percent of the writers I currently love: Maria Bustillos, Paul Hiebert, Sady Doyle, Pitchfork Reviews Reviews, among others.
Finally, we come to Twitter. It's my top source for breaking news, interesting stories, and potential #longreads. Twitter for Mac is where I do most of my hanging out, following essential media people like @brainpicker, @choire, @carr2n, @anamariecox, @pkedrosky, @MySecondEmpire, @gillianmae, @loisbeckett, @danshanoff and @maudnewton. My Twitter strategy is scattered. I tend to follow a lot of people with the expectation that I'm going to dip in occasionally and then have no idea what most of them are talking about. I just found out today about this poor Rebecca Black girl. That's how out of it I am.
Twitter is also my main source for new stories that get featured on Longreads. The community is incredible when it comes to finding and sharing great stories using the #longreads hashtag: @hriefs,@michellelegro, @jaredbkeller, @sherylyholmes, @legalnomads, @katesilver, @nxthompson, @weegee, @eugenephoto, @petersm_th, all recommend excellent links—from magazines like TheNew Yorker and The Atlantic to regional publications doing outstanding journalism like Texas Monthly, 5280 Magazine, Atlanta Magazine, and alt-weeklies like Minneapolis City Pages and The Stranger. If there's anything I've learned in the last two years, it's that print is far from dead: Traditional publications are still the main source of the most ambitious non-fiction storytelling you'll find online.
It's also exciting to see online-only publications publish long-form content—though it takes a slightly different shape. This Recording and The Onion A.V. Club's "Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation?" are great examples.
Email newsletters? I'm a fan. I do subscribe to a handful of them, most notably Jason Hirschhorn's Media ReDEFined, Noah Brier's really useful and semi-top-secret Percolate, and (yes, I'll admit it) Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP. Scoff all you like, but Gwyneth's people understand the benefits of being weekly. It's not overwhelming, all of the content exists inside the email, and it's bright, cheery and cleansing.
I don't actually use my iPad until the end of the day, around dinner time. The second most-useful app on my iPad is Epicurious. I'm a horrible cook, but the iPad is perfect for pulling recipes and keeping them close by while you're chopping carrots, or in my case, toasting a bagel.
After dinner, it's one of two options: If we're watching TV—we're cord-cutters, so only broadcast networks and Netflix for us—then I may check the real-time Twitter discussion of the show. If we're not watching TV, I'll have my nose buried in my favorite iPad app of all time. Have I mentioned it yet? It's called Instapaper.