News.me

Getting the News — Patricia Sauthoff

(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 Zach Seward, Anil Dash, and Megan Garber, here.)

This week we interviewed Patricia Sauthoff, editor of the juggernaut content aggregator Mediagazer. We’ve always admired Mediagazer and its sister sites Techmeme, memeorandum, and WeSmirch for their comprehensive coverage and fantastic, seemingly magical algorithm that surfaces the top stories of the day. We were sort of hoping Patricia would tell us all of Mediagazer’s secrets, but she kept mum — so we settled for how she gets her news, instead.

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

First thing, always, is to log onto Mediagazer to make sure everything is running smoothly and to check headlines from overnight. In the mornings Lyra McKee or David Connell are at the helm so I enjoy the luxury of coffee in bed while I catch up on all the non-media news that happened while I was asleep.

In the mornings I usually stick to RSS feeds for news. I can scan headlines and open tabs as well as search for whatever particular topic strikes my fancy. I’m still using Google Reader, but the redesign hasn’t grown on me. One of these days I’ll find a good replacement.

Around 11 am I fire up Tweetdeck and stick with Twitter for the bulk of the day, though I do jump back to RSS on occasion. The feeds I follow on both of those tools have some overlap but there are some things I’m more likely to read when I see on one or the other. Like The Awl. Nothing they tweet ever makes me want to click a link, but in RSS I find myself reading it all the time.

Because my job is to aggregate already published news I follow more journalists than publications on Twitter. Writers are more likely to tweet their pieces immediately than publications — especially those with auto-tweets — so that’s a good way to stay one step ahead of everything. RSS picks things up slower too, but it’s helpful when there are multiple stories on a topic. I can get a general view of how journalists are responding and scoop up all the takes in one shot.

Mediagazer and Techmeme founder Gabe Rivera, of course, has famously created an awesome algorithm to catch news and it’s fantastic. I try to beat it to the punch as often as I can. I don’t really know how it works, but if I can find news it hasn’t, I feel like I’m doing something right. It’s a bit strange to be the aggregator because I spend all day going through news feeds I’ve aggregated for myself and sharing the best of those. I don’t really get to use any other aggregators, except as a mark of what I’m already doing. The race to beat Romenesko was always pretty fun, but I’m enjoying his turn back toward journalism a lot more. He’s not only got a famously great eye for stories but an investigative streak that likes to fill in the gaps that others are missing.

Around 6 p.m. EST the media pundits tend to slow down, though news still trickles through until pretty late at night. I keep one eye on that beat and turn the rest of my news reading attention to world politics.

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

I almost never go directly to a news source looking for information. I’m more likely to trust a byline based on experience than the publication as a whole.

My daily reading is very diverse. For techy news the WIRED blogs, All Things Digital and PaidContent are good. I usually end up on all three of those at least a couple times a day. Obviously the big ones like the Guardian, New York Times and Reuters are always coming up, no matter what topic I’m reading about. I also really enjoy the AP local coverage, even if it’s a place I’ve never been. I constantly find myself reading some random AP story from Mississippi or wherever and wondering how I got there. Their headlines must be link-baity. I’m also reading a lot of Forbes and Bloomberg these days, which 15-year-old me would not approve of.

I get sucked into both Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education on a pretty regular basis, so I’m oddly up on the current debates in secondary education. Both of those publications find good writers and don’t have the academic voices you’d expect.

My number one most trusted news source is the Twitter feed of Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell. I’d like to hear how he has the time to read all that news and keep up with so many different threads of conversation. What I really like about him is the mini-criticism he gives when he does link to a story, or the way he’ll retweet others as a narrative of whatever he’s currently thinking about.

Beyond the US and UK papers, I follow a lot of English-language papers around the world, too. The National, The Hindu, Dawn, etc. It’s a nice balance and often the difference of perspective is startling.

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?

It probably sounds crazy, but I don’t have a smart phone. I do have an iPad and a wireless hotspot though, so I do end up pulling that out and looking at it in what are probably inappropriate situations. I work from home, so I don’t really need a phone at all. The tablet is a bit unwieldy, but it works and is easier to read on.

One of my favorite things on the whole internet is an “Onion News Network” video called “How Will the End of Print Journalism Affect Old Loons who Hoard Newspapers?” Even though my work is online I have loon piles of print all over my house. When I lived in London my mom would save up a month’s worth of New Yorkers and ship them to me. It was awesome.  Even though I could read it online with my subscription, I never did. My husband is a journalist too, so we’re constantly buying magazines and stacking them up all over the house. I find I read a lot more widely when I’ve made the commitment to a print magazine.

The first thing I do when I move somewhere new is to get a library card, I’m too mobile to buy a lot of books these days, and have a nice little collection of cards. Lately I’ve been on a fiction binge thanks to the local library. Of the last five novels I’ve read only one of them has been an e-book. The wait time for library e-books is too long and I like to read the dust jacket of anything I’m going to put that much time into reading.

I haven’t owned a TV since 2006 so I have to really go out of my way to watch it. I don’t really like TV, but I get sucked in easily. I watch FRONTLINE regularly, and 60 Minutes works really well as a podcast. I do go old-school and listen to the radio every day though — streaming, of course. Fresh Air in the afternoons and Le Show on Sunday nights.

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

I recently reread, for maybe the third time, Lawrence Wright’s “The Apostate” in the New Yorker. That was such a good article. I hold nearly all magazine pieces up to that one for comparison. The last one to stick with me almost as strongly was an Atlantic piece by Caitlin Flanagan called “The Hazards of Duke,” about the complexity of the female sexual landscape. It was a really troubling article that I remember reading about when it came out early last year, but I didn’t read it until Longform put it on it’s list of the year’s best. I wouldn’t call it great, but I also read the GQ T.O. piece ["Love Me, Hate Me, Just Don’t Ignore Me," a profile of Terrell Owens by Nancy Hass] a week or so ago and I don’t follow sports at all, so there was definitely something compelling to that one.

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

Whomever decided that computer screens would have a horizontal orientation is evil. Or not a reader. It would be so much easier to read and write if I could swivel my laptop screen vertically. It would seriously change my life. I think that’s one of the main reasons smartphones and tablets are so appealing, you can see so much more of a page if you turn the screen. Of course, if I couldn’t swivel it back to watch the Daily Show in wide-screen, I’d complain about that too.

Other than that, I’m not an innovator. People are coming up with cool tools all the time and I love trying them out. Someone will invent something that will be perfect for me, but I don’t know what that is. Unless it’s a dictation program that can function perfectly while I’m running water. I have genius ideas in the shower or when I’m doing the dishes but by the time I can write them down, they’re not quite right.