Nicholas Lemann: What I Read

The dean of Columbia's journalism school explains his Media Diet

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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 friends and colleagues who seem well-informed to describe their media diets. This is from a conversation with Nicholas Lemann, Dean and Henry R. Luce Professor of the Columbia Journalism School and a staff writer at The New Yorker.

Let me start by saying there is a lot one can read in the course of a day. To some extent there’s a correlation between how much time I have to goof off that day and how much I read. If you sit with a computer screen in front of you between meetings, there’s a lot you can wander into.

I do not have any devices. I just have a MacBook Air that I keep with me at all times. Digitally, I’m reading media on the Web and not on BlackBerries, iPhones, etc.

I subscribe to two newspapers on paper: The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. I read them both every morning in print, when they arrive on my doorstep. I’m a light sleeper so often I will have sneaked a peek at The New York Times online during the night.

I used to listen to radio while commuting to work, but now I live two blocks away. I am a bureaucrat and I sit in an office all day. When I’m not in meetings, I’m usually sitting in a chair with my computer open on my lap. Every day, at some point, I look at Politico, Real Clear Politics, and several things they lead me to. I also check The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Slate, Newsosaur, The Guardian. “Read” should be in quotes because I’ll just sort of glance at them or scan headlines. There’s one publication I actually oversee, distantly, which is the Columbia Journalism Review. I read that every day, and I also read the Romenesko blog every day.

When I get home, I’ll open my mailbox and there’ll generally be one of a good number of print magazines I subscribe to, including Time, Newsweek, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement. I look at those in the evenings. In an ideal world I’d watch the evening news, but it conflicts with childcare duties.

In terms of books, I usually have a few going at a time. I review books regularly, especially for The New Yorker, so I’m usually reading something in connection with a review I’m working on. I’m also usually reading something for pleasure and something for work, related to tenure review or an academic committee.

Almost every day, I read an academic article, generally in relation to a piece I’m working on. I subscribe to Foreign Affairs and look at every issue of that, as well as the Political Science Quarterly, since I’m on the board. I’ve been involved with The Washington Monthly for a long time and look at that online most days, as well as subscribing. I used to edit Texas Monthly and continue to subscribe to that. As for literary journals, I subscribe to N+1, The Paris Review, and the Virginia Quarterly Review.

I don’t like e-mail alerts because I find they just clutter my in-box. I’m not a podcast person. Both Twitter and Facebook are in the category where I worry if I join them, I’ll have to spend hours of the day using them. Also, my children have told me they would divorce me if I were on Facebook. My wife joined and for a while she was spending two hours a day on it. She got to the point where she just couldn’t take it anymore. I feel like if I join Facebook, it would be like e-mail compounded. The answer has been not to join Facebook.

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