News.me

Getting the News — Megan Garber

(This post is part of 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, from writers and thinkers like Anil Dash, Khoi Vinh, and Gordon Crovitz, here.)

To kick off 2012, we interviewed Megan Garber, assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab. Next week, she’ll be a staff writer at The Atlantic. But today, she’s answering questions about how she reads the news. Megan writes about the future of journalism for a living, so we had to ask her where she thinks journalism is heading — and what she’s missing from her news consumption.

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

The first thing I’ll check in the morning is Twitter — which has pretty much replaced my old standby, RSS. (I use Tweetdeck, which allows me to check streams from both @NiemanLab and my personal account.)

Beyond that, I’ll usually visit Mediagazer, Poynter, and, now, Romenesko at least a few times over the course of a day to check in on the biggest stories of the moment. Techmeme, as well. I’m also a regular at The Atlantic’s Tech channel, which covers media innovation in the context of technology more broadly. (I’ll be writing for them starting in January.) And for even more in-depth future-of-news news, one of the best resources I know of is Nieman Lab’s Fuego, a Twitter bot that aggregates the moment’s most talked-about stories among the meta-media crowd. It’s a great, efficient way of staying current with the media zeitgeist.

Beyond those, though, there are fewer and fewer sites that I’ll visit directly at this point; most of what I get, I get from Twitter. The main exceptions are The Awl and Gawker, which I have bookmarked for those occasions when I need something brain-clearing and/or fun to read, and The New York Times, which has been my various browsers’ homepage for as long as I can remember.

I’m also big on email newsletters; one of my favorites is the daily link-list from 3 Quarks Daily, which my editor, Josh, turned me on to, and which curates assorted smartness from around the web. And I always look forward to the Brainpickings email on the weekend; it’s generally more evergreen than newsy, but is consistently fantastic.

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

Though I’m not systematic about it at all, I’ll usually end up — through social media and the aggregators I mentioned — at HuffPost, The Atlantic Wire, CJR, the New York Observer, Slate, the Guardian, the New Yorker, HiLoBrow, NPR, Reddit, New York Magazine, the Paris Review, Gizmodo, or some combination of those in a given day. GOOD has been doing some especially fantastic stuff of late, as has Mother Jones. That said, though, I’m generally (and increasingly) excited about topics more than I am about particular publications; one of the things I appreciate about social media platforms (and their general treatment of users as curators) is their ability to combine filtration and serendipity within the content they provide. With each link, you never know quite what you’re going to get … but you can pretty much assume it’ll be good.

I also get a lot of my information — particularly the week-in-review type content — from podcasts, which I’ll listen to while grabbing lunch or on the commute home. Shows like On the Media and Slate’s Gabfests offer great roundups and analysis of the week’s events; for more lighthearted stuff, I’m a big fan of Marc Marron’s WTF and NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, and — of course — standbys like This American Life. The Philosophy Bites podcast is consistently provocative and occasionally delightful. And (even farther afield from breaking news!) iTunes U, with its free lectures from universities across the globe, is one of the most valuable — and, from what I can tell, under-utlized — information services on the web.

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?

This is a horrible thing to admit, given that I cover digital media, but I am (still!) a paper-holdout. I almost always have a book or magazine in my bag; when I’m on a plane or waiting in a long line or otherwise in a situation that lends itself to nomadic reading, my impulse is to turn to them rather than to my mobile devices. I like the tactile quality of paper-based reading; I like the way that, say, a New Yorker can roll in your hand or spread on your lap as the situation requires. I also almost always have a pencil with me — I think I’m one of the few people left who uses the mechanical version — and I like the easy note-taking that print reading allows. Over the years, I’ve developed a weird, nerdy shorthand (lots of symbols, asterisks, etc.) that probably looks like chicken scratch and/or insane ravings to anyone who might come across it, but which is in fact pretty perfect for marginalia … and uniquely awful for digital note-taking, particularly with touchscreen keyboards. Though I’d love a system that makes digital notation as easy as analog, I’ve yet to find anything that beats a yellow Bic pencil and an empty margin. (ProTip: Never loan me a magazine.)

And I don’t watch TV news anymore — local is too depressing, and national is too infuriating. (Unless you count The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, that is, in which case I watch TV news all the time.)

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

Popular Mechanics had an incredible piece recently recreating the final moments of Air France’s Flight 447, based on recently recovered black boxes. Not only is the article remarkable for its ability to inject tension into a story whose ending we know all too well — a state-of-the-art airplane, brought down by bad decisions and even worse luck — but it’s also almost allegoric in its scope. A story of the convergence of powerful technology and frail humanity, told in a way that lets tragedy, and humanity, speak for themselves.

I discovered the article through Longreads, which — along with Longform.org — is a stellar source of engaging, engrossing articles across subject areas.

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 I had a better, more dynamic web archiving system. I still use Delicious, and rely on it pretty heavily … despite that, though, I often find myself frustrated with the reductiveness of the tagging system: Read an article, tell Delicious that it’s about The New York Times and also paywalls and also business models, that it’s by Mathew Ingram and via GigaOm, and move on. I could make myself a more detailed tag taxonomy — and occasionally do — but the overall system isn’t really one that invites either expansion or nuance, particularly when it comes to the vague, tag-resistent concepts that are often the most interesting and important to save. I’d love a service that allows for the relatively dynamic and connection-oriented capture of content — an archive for the semantic web. Delicious, only tastier.