Norah O'Donnell: What I Read

The co-host of CBS This Morning shares her secret to staying informed: Early mornings and commercial breaks. 

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How do people deal with the torrent of information pouring down on us all? What sources can't they live without? We regularly reach out to prominent figures in media, entertainment, politics, the arts, and the literary world to hear their answers. This is drawn from an e-mail exchange Norah O'Donnell, co-host of CBS This Morning and former chief White House correspondent at CBS News.  

I start my day very early in the morning, usually sometime between 3:00 a.m. and 3:30 a.m., when I first check my Blackberry for emails from the CBS This Morning team — they include the most relevant overnight news stories from The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and other publications. Also included is a note on all of our correspondents’ reporting from the field that will be included in the broadcast. I check Twitter for additional headlines before making my way into the office.

While I’m getting prepped for the show, I make my way through 6 different newspapers: The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Post, New York Daily News, and USA Today. I like to read the hard copies because there are graphics and charts that are often useful. You’ll notice that a lot of my newspapers have writing and highlighting all over them – I refer to them during our broadcast, and also frequently flag headlines to include in our daily “Papers” segments.

When I make it to the set, I review a binder that is separated by segment and story. In it I have the script and background research for every piece in the show. I also have a “One Sheet” — something our executive producer, Chris Licht, instituted — which includes a quick summary of each segment, why it’s important, and usually includes suggested questions for the guest or correspondent. Starting at around 5:30 a.m., I go over everything in the binder with a senior producer.

If ever there is breaking news, there’s generally little time to be reading except during commercial breaks. In those instances, our executive producer talks in my ear about which correspondents are on the scene; wire stories are also run to me on set so I can quickly look them over.

The funniest thing that's ever happened to me during a commercial break is probably getting picked up by Shaquille O'Neal. He came by the show back in March — and during the commercial break, showed off his strength by picking me. He's a fun guy and a big joker.

When we finish with updates for the West Coast and affiliate teases, I normally go back to my office and look through many of the papers again for stories that might deserve follow-up for the next day. I’ll also make calls, listen to voicemails and make yet another futile attempt to empty my Inbox.

I also enjoy reading for pleasure – usually something that’s a bit escapist. A phrase my husband Geoff and I like to use is, “books that are like reading TV.” I just read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I loved Laura Hillenbrand ’s Unbroken, too. I’m a big word-of-mouth person when it comes to books; I often choose the books I read based on my friends’ recommendations. Sometimes I’ll follow a whole series — Game of Thrones is a favorite — or, if there’s an author I like, I’ll read all of his or her books. We interview a lot of authors on the show, too, so I’m always reading their books before they come on as guests.

As far as magazines go, my guilty pleasures are House Beautiful, Veranda and Elle Décor. They feature concepts and ideas that are totally different from what I do every day – and I’m so amazed by some people’s creative talents. I subscribe to more than a dozen other magazines, which I look through routinely for story ideas: MORE, O, Time, New York, The New Yorker, People, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Redbook, Vogue, The Atlantic, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan.

Most evenings I also read children’s books with my three kids. My twins, Henry and Grace, are just learning to read — it’s incredible to see them start to sound out words on their own.

In terms of television, I watch the CBS Evening News every night, and I often have to watch an episode of Ben 10 or Scooby Doo with my kids. Other than that, I don’t get the chance to watch much TV at night.  By the time I read to my kids and get them to bed, I’m so exhausted that I quickly check my iPhone for the next day’s guest list, story updates and any breaking news — and then try to crash as soon as possible.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.