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Getting the News — Jeff Sonderman

(This post is the fourth in News.me’s ongoing series, “Getting the News.” In our efforts to understand everything about social news, we’re reaching out to writers and thinkers we like to ask them how they get their daily news. Read the first post here. See all of the posts here.)

This week, our interviewee is Jeff Sonderman, Digital Media Fellow at the Poynter Institute. Jeff blogs and trains journalists about using social media and mobile technology for better journalism. He has worked as a reporter and editor at print newspapers and as a community engagement specialist and editor in online local news. Jeff’s always got his ear to the ground looking for the latest innovations in news. We pinned him down for a few minutes to ask him how he stays informed.

1. Describe how you get news throughout the day. What’s the first thing you check when you wake up?

I grab my iPad pretty much as soon as I wake up to start catching up on the news through a handful of apps, RSS feeds and websites.

Over breakfast I usually turn the TV on to ESPN or "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, depending on whether sports or national news seems most interesting that day. 

After breakfast, I switch over to my MacBook Pro in my home office and start checking e-mail alerts and newsletters. All day I have Facebook and Twitter clients loaded in browser tabs that I check frequently. During the day I’m mostly prowling for work-related news stories and blog posts I might write about for Poynter. I’ll often use Instapaper or extra browser tabs to save the stories of personal interest so I can read them later.

Later in the day I’ll return to the iPad and read more casual or personally interesting stories. I’ll often watch a recorded version of “The Daily Show” and might check in on a cable news show briefly in the evening, to see if anything huge broke since I tuned out at work.

2. What publications or news sources do you read and trust? How frequently do you visit them throughout the day?

Maybe I’m in a small minority here, but I still use RSS for a lot of things. There are a few news blogs or writers who I follow directly by subscribing to their RSS feeds — GigaOM, Mashable, TechCrunch, paidContent, Nieman Lab, plus a lot of official company blogs and some smaller sites or personal blogs of really smart journalism and tech people. I also subscribe to a lot of local community bloggers like ARLnow and Clarendon Culture that keep me up to date on everything happening where I live.

But RSS isn’t just for following websites. I also use feeds from Google Alerts, Delicious tags and Twitter searches to pull in more obscure things that I wouldn’t normally see.

There are a few websites I still visit directly once in a while just to see what’s going on there — NYTimes.com, Reddit, All Things D, Forbes. Obviously, I read everything on Poynter.org.

Other than using RSS and visiting a few staple sites, much of my news I discover through other filters — iPad apps that aggregate news and recommend stories I’ll like, links posted to Twitter or Facebook, or services like The Tweeted Times that analyze my social networks and summarize what my friends are sharing.

3. What platforms do you read/get content on? Are you into reading content on your iPhone or tablet, or do you still remember how to unfold a newspaper? Do you ever watch television news programs?

I don’t subscribe to any printed newspapers or magazines. I do read some of those sources digitally, but in most cases printed news seems inadequate — less timely. interactive and sharable than digital, and lacking links to source information or further context.

While I’m working I end up reading a lot of articles on my laptop screen, but whenever I have the option I read articles and e-books on my iPad. It’s just a much more comfortable, portable and distraction-free reading experience.

I find I don’t actually spend much time getting news on my Android smartphone, but before I had an iPad I did use my phone a lot more for reading and news browsing on the go.

4. What was the last great article you read? How did you find out about it? Is this your typical pattern?

I don’t recall a specific article, but I’d say 9 times out of 10 if I find a “great” article it’s through Twitter or Facebook. My other feeds and filters are good at finding a lot of relevant and interesting stuff, but social networks seem to set a higher bar. An actual person who I follow has to read the article first and decide it’s impressive enough to share — that’s a pretty strong signal to me that it’s worth looking at.

5. Is anything missing from your news consumption pattern now or in the tools/sites that you use? Anything you wish you had?

Two things come to mind. One is that our news system largely lacks an awareness of what I’ve already read, or what I already know, on a subject. Unlike a newspaper or magazine that has to be printed once for mass distribution, digital news can and should be more flexible. Each person should see a report tailored to their interests and knowledge, instead of reading the exact same thing everyone else gets.

The second thing I find missing are measures of quality and style of an article. In many ways it’s a great thing that anyone can publish content online, but it also means we need much better filters to find the content we want. Right now many sites and services match content to my interests by topic, but in the future we’ll need automated measures of how well written, original or authoritative one post is compared to another.

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