Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

My Media Diet: What I Read

One of my guilty pleasures on the web is The Atlantic Magazine’s online “Media Diet.” This is not the typical online venue where someone goes to”goof off.”  There are no songs about “Friday” here.   The column views itself as a respectable destination to help others overcome the information overload of modern times., with responses from such media heavy-hitters ranging such as Joseph Epstein and Peggy Noonan.

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 the stated mission of the column, but I’m sure most readers come to see what media bigwigs do online, so they can flagellate themselves for being losers laughing at LOL Cats rather than reading the latest update from the New York Review of Books.

If a tech-savvy statistician created a graph analyzing the data from this site, he would conclude that what separates a media industry success story from the common man is his better daily reading list.

Is it my imagination, but does everyone who contributes to this “Media Diet” column only read the other contributors?  I’m sad to announce this, but I did not see one mention from any of these columnists about them reading a personal blogger!  Although it makes me sad that the editors of Mother Jones and Vanity Fair are not regular readers of Citizen of the Month, I understand that these are busy people.  They look for information that matters to them, which doesn’t include caring about my mother returning from Boca Raton.

But don’t any of these media bigwigs HAVE a mother, or at least family members or online friends who don’t work in the media?  Doesn’t the editor of Harper’s Magazine ever receive corny email jokes from his Aunt Mildred about “this rabbi from Cleveland who was having an affair with his secretary?”  These are part of my media diet.  Unfortunately.   And as much as I find these emails annoying, I might even respond to one.  “That cracked me up, Aunt Mildred!  I love being on your “joke list” so much, please unsubscribe me from this email account and send it to my main, more important “hotmail account” instead, spam_crap@hotmail.com!  Love you.”

Does David Brooks of the New York Times consume anything other than “the Weekly Standard, The New Republic, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Claremont Review, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and National Affairs?”

For another example, here is a section of Media Diet:  What I Read by Emily Yoffe, a Slate contributor who writes their “Human Guinea Pig” and “Dear Prudence” features.  She is a writer I really like.

I look at Real Clear Politics, Politico, The Atlantic (Goldblog first), Politics Daily, Romenesko. I mostly see stuff on The Daily Beast or Huffington Post because someone sent it to me. The columnists I always read are Ruth Marcus, Bret Stephens, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, Mark Steyn, Michael Kinsley. (I owe my career to Mike – although please don’t pin the blame on him.) I appreciate the reporting and analysis of Claudia Rosett at Pajamas Media, and Anne Bayefsky at National Review Online.

Should I feel ashamed of my own media diet — which consists of mommybloggers, Facebook updates from overly depressed writers, vicious Twitter fights over whether or not “raisins are disgusting,” and blogs about women accidentally coloring their pubic hair to the color blue?

Are we what we eat, both in what we put into our mouths AND into our minds?

Have you seen the commercial for Pediasure “Sidekicks” for children?  Two soccer moms are watching their daughters playing in a soccer game.  One of the daughters drinks Pediasure before the game.  You know this because she is the superstar scoring goal after goal.  The other girls, who don’t drink Pediasure, are sluggish and poor athletes.  They are “what they eat.”  You know this because the advertisers portray these girls as mutant children shaped like French Fries and frosted donuts.

You ARE what you eat.  At least in our consumer society where the aim is to make you insecure about who you are, and what you read (or the music you listen to).

The Atlantic Magazine Media Diet column has made me think about my own daily online diet.  I’m not being judgmental about myself (OK, I am a little), but analyzing myself, and maybe prompting myself to adjust how I spend my time online.   Currently, I am trying to write more AND read more books, giving me less time to read YOU.  And I like YOU.  I really do.   But you don’t pay the bills.

So, how do I juggle all of this?  Does it really matter who I read?   During my years online, my struggles with knowing what to do with YOU has bothered me more than how you felt about ME.  Am I talking about “branding” again?  Perhaps the editors of The Economist also read the personal blogs of their friends, but just don’t say so publicly, wanting to keep a professional image?  Perhaps they are on LOL Cats every day and then fake a list for the Atlantic?!  Does anyone judge me on what I read, or am I judging myself?

The following is my current “media diet.”  It is a typical online day in April 2011.  I tried to be honest about my day.   Believe me, I am the first to notice that I spend too time online, and not always in the most productive way.

Feel free to write about your “media diet” on your own blog.  I bet it will be eye-opening.

Media Diet
by Neil Kramer
writer of the blog Citizen of the Month

Once upon a time, the first thing I did upon waking up, was to drag myself to the bathroom, eyes still half sleepily shut, and pee, frequently missing the bowl itself.

Those days are long gone, almost quaint in my mind.

Today, the first action of the day is to grab my iphone, which is usually sitting on the pillow next to me, like a loyal lover, or a eager pet puppy, and going online.

The mornings before breakfast, are all about ME.  I check my email.  I go to my blog to see if I received any more comments, and delete the spam uncaught by Akismet.  I go on Facebook to see if there were any responses to my updates or comments. And lastly, I go on Twitter, to see if I got any mentions or DMs.

My only focus on the outside world is that I wish happy birthday to my friends on Facebook!  It is almost a habit.

I don’t check the news before breakfast, so if World War III had started, I would be unaware of it.  I might make a joke on Facebook to a blogger in St. Louis while I was still in bed, not even realizing that St. Louis had been destroyed the evening before.

It is not until breakfast that I focus on the “real world.”  I juice up my laptop and turn to Google News.  I find this site ugly in design, but it is still the best place to get a quick glance of what is going on in the world.

I used to be a news junkie, but blogging has changed me.  I now feel — and I say this in all seriousness — that I learn more about the human condition and life from reading personal blogs.  This might change soon, as my life — and the blogging world — changes.

Breakfast is over.  It is now the “work day.”  I struggle with an internet habit.  I have not been shy about mentioning this on my blog.  I am tempted to stay online, particularly on Twitter, and I succumb often.  I have tried many different methods to battle this, from using alarms to pulling the plug out of the router.  The best thing for my work is to avoid Twitter during the day.  Or set an alarm which promptly sends electrical jolts to my testicles if I don’t get offline immediately.

I follow over 3000 people on Twitter.  One solution that works well for me in cutting out some of the chaos is the use of Twitter lists.  I have two lists, ALWAYS READ and SOMETIMES READ.  I try to keep the ALWAYS READ column very short, 150 people, the number associated with Dunbar’s Number.

If I do go on Twitter during the morning, it is usually to scan the ALWAYS READ column, those who I consider closest in friendship.  I also respond to those who send messages to me.  Sometimes.

The morning is all Twitter, which is dangerous to my work.  At some point, I finally get offline to do something constructive.  Like I said, I am working on this.

It is not until lunchtime that I read any blog posts.  My days of reading hundreds of blogs a day are long gone.  I can’t handle it.   I usually go onto my Google Reader (or Feedly, which I love), where I have another ALWAYS READ column.  As a creature of habit, this column also contains Dunbar’s number of 150.  I rarely get through more than five blog posts during lunch, particularly if they are emotional or well-written. After you read something that touches you or makes you laugh, who wants to skip to another piece?  I like to let the writing sit with me as I eat my turkey sandwich.

Who do I read every day?  It’s not a big secret, although I feel uncomfortable posting it on a blogroll.  It is mostly a collection of people I have connected with throughout the years for one reason or another.  Danny and Schmutzie and V-grrrl and Tanis and Jane, and others who you see me talking about more than others.  Relationships change and sometimes I stop reading one of these people for a month or so.   You can grow apart.  You can get too close.  It’s all rather personal to me.

I catch up on most of my blog reading at night or on weekends.  In complete honesty, there are about ten of you who I read every single post you write, fifty of you who I read once a week, and others who I catch when I can, usually following a link from Twitter or Facebook.

During the afternoons, I find it much easier to concentrate on my work.  Although there are countless examples of me doing the opposite, I try not to go on Twitter.  If I do take a break during the afternoon, I tend to reach for Facebook.  I am not a Facebook addict, so I find it safer.  Some of my closest online friends are on Facebook rather than Twitter.  Twitter attracts the loud mouths and those who like to be the center of attention.  Twitter is like the cafeteria at NBC in Rockefeller Center, where clever people like to show off to each other.  Facebook is taking a trip to small-town USA, where people know everything about you.  I find Twitter relaxing.  I know that this isn’t the typical view, but this is how I perceive things, based on who I follow.  I look at your funny photos and learn about your new jobs and child’s birthday party.  I’ve accepted commerce and pimping as an essential part of Twitter.  I do not ALLOW it on my Facebook stream.

Each day, around 6PM – 7:30PM, a synapse clicks in my brain telling me that it is “serious news time.”  This probably has something to do with me being born before CNN, when the nightly news was an important TV event.  When I was a child, one of my daily joys was watching the local daily news with my father.  My family was a CBS news family, formed during the era of Walter Cronkite.  It is around this time that I indulge in my serious online time.  I have four major news/opinion sources in my Google Reader:  The New York Times, Slate, Salon, and the Atlantic.  If I am not in the mood to read at the moment, I use Read it Later to bookmark the article.

At night, if I am not going out, the internet has replaced television as my main source of “entertainment.”  If I am not writing my own blog post, I usually return to my blog reading.  I use Commentluv on my blogposts, so I can see the titles of the posts of those who recently commented.  I like to go through YOUR posts, one by one, curious what you are saying, or learning about the newcomers to my blog.  I don’t always comment back, but it is a ritual I enjoy.

After 8PM, I have no specific online routine.   I like to talk to people on IM, especially Juli, Jennifer, Marinka, or Schmutzie.   We sometimes gossip about some online drama of the day.  I then go back to Google Reader to continue with my ALWAYS READ group of 150.   I often return to Twitter until I get burned out or start ranting about some issue.   I’m sometimes online, reading Lifehacker, which gives me a geek thrill, or screenwriting blogs such as that of John August, until I fall asleep, which is why my phone is sitting on my pillow the next morning, where I start all over again.

I have no problem with my early morning Twitter/Facebook/blog rituals, my lunch-time blog reading, or my dinner-time news update.  It is the rest of the day that I would like to change.   I want to eliminate a good deal of my time wasting during the work day.  I would like to drastically reduce my nighttime online life so I can read more books, or socialize.  I’m sure these are issues that all of you deal with on a daily basis, including those media bigshots who write these “Media Diet” columns for the Atlantic.  People are people.

Would I be a better person if I consumed more of the quality media diet that these well-known media personalities do?  I doubt it.  It might help me career wise, but is knowing who got fired at Conde Nast today really more important than which personal blogger bought a new house?  The one big difference that is essential to remember is that those who contribute to the Atlantic “Media Diet” column never let their media consumption take over their lives.   They use it to enhance their own product.  They are producers before being consumers.  They do not read personal blogs or acknowledge Aunt Mildred’s joke emails because it is not related to their work.

Or else they just don’t talk about it online.

19 Comments

  1. OK, I just finished writing my tomorrow’s blog post and had to go onto your site to copy and paste it’s address. I confessed to being a stalker online since it’s Sunday and they say God likes to know about your sins. Thus pasting your site into my confession. Then I sat down to read your post. Made me feel a little better. If I am what I eat and read, let me forever be known as your fan who is eating a second piece of cheese cake. Home made.

  2. I think if some of those people in the Atlantic column were more honest, their media diet would look a lot more like yours than they would like to admit.

  3. This post is funny and thought-provoking at the same time. (May I just say this applies to most of your posts so I don’t have to say it every time? Makes me sound like an old person that repeats herself and a brown-noser too…) My hunch is that even if they do, they may not want to mention it in public, unless it is Paul Krugman’s blog… You are living a life like Tron Neil. You are inside the Interwebz a long time each day! Like you, I use Read It Later and love it. (I esp. love the ability to right-click and save a URL directly for future reading) I recently shelled out $5 for Digest hoping to be able to better organize the ever-expanding list for more efficient time management. (Ha!) I read a lot of blog posts this way but like you I don’t have time to comment. I wish they’d come out with an app for say “email to comment” or something…

  4. “…coloring their public hair to the color blue?”

    A rather prudish spell-check, there.

  5. I start with e-mail, reviewing personal messages, shopping offers, and whatever else I’ve subscribed to.

    I go to Facebook. I usually end up following a few links from there of things people have shared. Most of my blog reading originates with a Facebook link.

    I don’t use any feed readers. I use Yahoo as my news aggregator. If there’s a big international story I’m following, I’ll go to the BBC and CNN. However, that’s rare. I’m more likely to be sidetracked doing a few Google searches to find out more about something embedded in a blog post or article–most likely on the topic of psychology, health, or science. When I’m bored, I click through fashion/music sites.

    I often don’t check my blog for comments until I’ve been up for hours. I post there a few times a week.

    I don’t normally go on Twitter every day, more like every few days, but I’ve also gone for weeks (months?) without being on Twitter. I’m more of a Twitter reader than a Twitter writer.

    I will return to Facebook throughout the day, and I like it best when it’s social. I don’t like when people use Facebook as a news channel or to constantly broadcast their religious or political views. I limit the number of people I connect with there, and I interact quite a bit. Facebook is my living room.

    I rarely IM anymore. I don’t have a smart phone so never check on anything when I’m away from my desktop. I only text with my kids. I exchange fairly long meaty e-mails with quite a number of people. I send out cards by snail mail to some.

    You’re the only friend I talk with on the phone regularly.

  6. Oops. I forgot the print media. We get our local newspaper, Architectural Digest, Vogue, InStyle, Consumer Reports, Consumer Reports on Health, Smart Money, Smithsonian Magazine, and other “membership” magazines. I always have art books and poetry collections kicking around. I rarely read fiction.

  7. Fascinating. I love seeing how other people manage their days and their internal wranglings with twitter and social media.

    I must admit the more elusive someone is on twitter the more I like them – present company excluded because you use twitter in a different way from most people I follow in that you use it to pose questions more than a running commentary on your life. Because of the time difference, I always seem to be off to do the school run or something just as the really interesting conversations start on it. I’ve consciously tried to stay away from the flame wars this year so am a bit out of the loop. I missed the raisin wars for instance. Cam I get an overview?

    I’m a BBC rolling news kind of person supplemented by The Guardian (fitting a stereotype yet?) and The Times plus BBC radio. I’ve got a must read list of blogs too but not as many as 150 and read lots and lots of fiction. Facebook I hardly ever, ever go on and try to keep it for family and real life friends – maybe that’s a mistake. I wake up to all my Australian bloggy friends and go to bed when the Canadians and Americans are all tweeting away. Some days I hate twitter with a vengeance, other days I am rarely off it.

  8. That is so interesting and makes me contemplate my own “media diet” which I admit I have never really thought about. I check email the second I wake up (I wish I could say after my 20-minute meditation but that is not the case!) and then look at Facebook. I do both of those things periodically throughout the day whenever I am in front of my computer and probably check Twitter once or twice a day (I still don’t really “get” Twitter and prefer Facebook). I’m a little horrified to realize how much of my news I get from the Huffington Post, I probably check that site several times a day, and if there’s something I want to read more about I’ll look at the NY Times (which I’ll stop doing soon since they’re going to start charging) or other news sources depending on what the story is. And I have to admit that yours is the first blog I check each day. I used to read more than a dozen blogs daily but now in addition to yours I maybe look at two or three others during the course of the day. Every once in a while I’ll go down my blogroll and see what people are up to (and I’ll occasionally delete all the blogs that are defunct). I never thought this day would come but I now get ALL of my news from online sources (and from NPR when I’m in my car). I never watch TV news, read print magazines, or buy newspapers anymore and I used to do all three all the time. I don’t check my own blog for comments because I receive copies of them all via email and I read them there.

    • Danny, I’m going to cough up for a subscription to the New York Times. Lots of people bag the grey lady, but there’s little alternative. The content really is worth paying for. And it is right and proper that a user like me pays for it.

      I get my NPR through a curious device called an internet radio, which logs into NPR stations from across the country, and across the world. I make a donation to all the ones I listen to most regularly: WHYY, WNYC, KQED, and the excellent NPR Berlin. It’s right and proper that I should pay for that, too.

  9. You would know if WWIII started because somebody on Twitter would probably say something clever about it.

  10. Oh, crap…is it wrong to have Derp and Failbook in my favorites?

  11. Hmmm … Neil, do you think you just alienated a lot of bloggers with this??

  12. Neil–glad you brought my attention this this. I guess I missed it on Twitter when you posted it. Like you, I “follow” blogs through Twitter more than any other method.

    I’ve made a few changes to spend less time online. First, I rarely post on my blog more than once a week. I think if you want a consistent readership on your blog, comments, retweets, etc, it’s hard to be constantly putting out new material and therefore asking so much of others. When I’ve written my one post a week, I can spend the bulk of my writing time on the novel or short stories.

    As for reading other blogs, I spend time doing that either in the small pockets of time I allow myself to watch TV or when I’m working out. (I’m clearly not training for a marathon or anything.) IF you have a blog and want people to read it, I think it’s important to be a blog reader as well. You obviously know this, but for some others it’s easy to expect people to keep coming back to you. Blogging is much more give and take than traditional media outlets–even places like Slate and The Atlantic.

    My husband pretty much shoos me away from the computer during the evening because he wants to spend time with me (sweet–not complaining) so it helps to keep me from being a complete addict like I would be otherwise. Still though, Twitter is my crack. WAY too much time goes by and I’ll think “what have I accomplished in the past hour.” Not much, sadly. Twitter’s hard like that.

  13. I believe one should be discerning about what they read simply in terms of whether or not it reinforces the purpose/values they have in life. I read what interests me, energizes me and gives me further insight into the human condition. That can come from Twitter, FB, a personal blog, the NYT, or the back of a shampoo bottle. The forum is extraneous to me, the message is what’s important.
    I think those folks at Vanity Fair etc *definitely* read personal blogs, but, like most people in positions of high regard they’re oppressed by the image they’ve created for themselves and are condemned to not being honest about their choices.

    Wow. THAT last part was kind of morose. Apparently, I’m taking the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death waaay more seriously than I originally thought I would.

  14. I think you wrote some good stuff.

    However, I’m stuck on the PediaSure. The kid drinking a milk product before a game would probably puke on the field. AND, they use PediaSure a lot for g-tube fed kids. So, there’s that…

  15. You know, it changes. A lot. Sometimes I read a lot of news — NYTimes is the only real standby I always go back to — other times I read a lot of blogs, and still other times I read a bit of both — these are the times when I’m “being good”.

    I feel like I should probably read more news all the time.

    It’s hard though — and what an excuse this is, but… — our internet is so slow out here in the boondocks and I have no other choices. I get ten times the amount of work done if I go into town to work in a wifi hotspot, but then what’s the point of working from “home” if I can’t be home? I’m a mess.

  16. I love this topic. It makes me think of Revolutionary Road, where Frank and April are crippled by self-consciousness and their sense that they are superior to the banality that they have fallen into. It comes off as a mutual neurosis, which is a symptom of a larger social ill.

    I will try to post a response.

  17. There are many reasons I won’t be seeing this movie, not the least of which is that I think Russell Brand may possibly be the Zodiac Killer.

    I hate remakes, mostly because I know first hand how studio execs often reject good, original scripts for the tried and true crap.

  18. When I worked in “big” publishing in NY, the reading lists were practically a competitive sport. Who was reading the most esoteric, worldly, experimental stuff? Who was keeping up on the intellectual writings? Who was the best?
    Of course, they all read LOLCats more than anything else, but they’d never say it. Because that’s low-brow, baby, and they were all above that. I love a lot of those folks dearly, but it was refreshing to move to the West Coast and leave the posturing about reading behind and just…read.

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