Getting the News — Ken Fisher

(This post is the sixth in’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.)

Today we’re featuring Ken Fisher, founder and editor-in-chief of Ars Technica, one of the web’s leading tech publications. Early on, Ars distinguished itself with highly educated authors and sharp commentary, and in 2008 was acquired by Condé Nast. Ken is a brilliant and critical thinker — he holds two masters’ degrees from Harvard, and in addition to his work at Ars, he’s writing a book on online communities and the changing landscape of property and business on the web. Ken’s immersed in media issues daily, so we asked this self-described “cranky Editor” how he gets the news.

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

When I first wake-up, the most important news is in my inbox, accessible to me by whatever phone I am using at the moment. I’ve checked it within five minutes of getting up, probably while I am brushing my teeth. What’s there? From there, I usually load up AP and scan headlines. I’m still pretty groggy at this point, and I may walk right into a wall while trying to turn a corner reading the AP.  At this point in my day, I’m looking for day-altering news. I don’t read much at this hour, I just mostly note its existence.

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

Since I’m the Editor of Ars, I’m pretty much on a news site all the time, namely, Ars. I don’t get to read much news from elsewhere during the day. I normally have a spate of discovery at lunch, but generally I’m a “flag and read later” guy, with later usually being quittin’ time.

I’m a skeptic by nature (to say nothing of being a cranky Editor) and so its difficult for me to describe my relationship with any news source as ”trust.” That said, I believe that the Financial Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, and the BBC are all top notch. The Wall Street Journal is usually excellent, except when it’s not. Why these news organizations? They’re all very light on the fluff, very good about corrections, typically very well edited, and properly researched.

In the tech space, I don’t get to enjoy the work of others nearly as often as I like. When I do, I tend to read the hardcore tech news, and not the speculation, gossip, cheerleading cycle that’s out there chasing after mainstream readers. There’s none I read on a daily basis, but it would be rare for me not to have read some AllThingsD, Tested, BoingBoing, and The Register over the course of the week.

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?

Most of my work is done in Windows, and most of my reading in Chrome.  I don’t like reading on my iPad, frankly. I strongly prefer the Kindle, although I am happiest with Kindle Reader on a PC. I read Barron’s weekly, in print. It’s the only paper I still read, part of a Saturday ritual.

I’ll read on an iPhone or Android phone, but I won’t savor it. It’s better than nothing, but not a great experience for me.

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

The last great article I read was this piece [“The Research Bust,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education] about the broken system of higher ed in the United States.

Nate Anderson passed me the link. Really, our virtual office (and IRC channel) is where I find the best stuff, because we have such a diverse and well-read staff. I am a firm believer that the best stuff doesn’t show up on people-powered aggregators at scale. At least not yet. It still pays to just know people with a passion for knowledge.

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

I wish there was an aggregation website out there that somehow could filter out the claptrap that currently dominates them, while still having plenty of content. The closest destinations I know of fitting that bill today would be specific sub-reddits on niche topics. Claptrap can be fun, but it’s usually also sloppy, and more often than not, irrelevant. It’s a crying shame when that stuff takes up mental bandwidth and serious work sits unread.

Alongside this, I’m ready to throw in the towel on RSS. More convenient than reading the web, it’s also completely overwhelming and frustrating to work with. No one seems to mind, either. The state of RSS readers is one of stasis.

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