Nick Denton: What I Read
The founder of Gawker Media explains his media diet
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 from a conversation with Gawker Media owner Nick Denton.
Question: What do you read everyday? Start in the morning and take us through your average day.
Denton: I used to go over to Balthazar at 9am, grab the New York Times and the Guardian from the table at the front, and read the papers over coffee. But then I got an iPhone and a Nespresso machine. So now I tend to scan the papers before going to sleep, on my phone. And I make coffee at home unless I'm meeting someone.
In the morning, I'll usually give Gawker, Gizmodo and our other sites a quick scan. (In the new layout, of course.) Cue: irritable emails about headlines, photos, lame press releases masquerading as stories.
During the day, there's no real pattern. I consume most of my news in email and (more recently) Facebook. I think Zuckerberg has created the personalized news engine we always dreamed of. My friends are a pretty good proxy for my tastes. And it's a lot easier to enter and prune a friend list than it is to define one's tastes by keyword.
The only properties I'll read in the way they were intended: the New York Times and Guardian on the iPhone, and a few magazines.
I would be very upset if anything happened to New York Magazine. That's my most enjoyable read of the week, and I'll consume it from Intel through the restaurant coverage to the Approval Matrix, a format I'm very jealous of. The magazine is the ultimate handbook for the bohemian bourgeoisie.
I've read the Economist since I was old enough to seize it from my father. Yeah, I was that dorky. I'm still a devotee. That's my hungover Saturday afternoon reading. And I usually also have Prospect, Private Eye and The Atlantic to hand.
I used to be a complete magazine addict. As a teenager, I lived for The Face and Blitz. In my twenties I used to take a three-mile train journey from Budapest just to get hold of Wired and MacWorld. Now I'm still loyal to a few old staples; but the obsession has switched to the web. I've even given up the habit of stocking up on magazines before a flight. Now, instead, I'll visit longform.org and load up some longer pieces onto the Instapaper app on my iPad.
The tablet hasn't made many inroads into my daily news consumption. But it has taken over from both laptop and the magazine as primary travel device -- and source of entertainment.
Oh, I forgot one major new habit. In between times, when I'm in a taxi or waiting for someone, I'll check Twitter. Facebook provides more serendipity and my Twitter feed slants towards boring business news. But I like Twitter for the iPhone much more than the Facebook app.
Oh, and you want TV? I watch a ton of TV, at least when the good shows are on. I've had major Battlestar Galactica and Dexter phases. My favorite current show is the Good Wife. The writing and acting are just too good. I'll watch Mad Men and 30 Rock -- but that's pretty much a cultural obligation at this point rather than any mark of distinction.
And I've just discovered the charms of Modern Family. That took over from Desperate Housewives as the saccharine show with a subversive subtext. Except it's so much better.
Q: I'm curious what you find subversive about Modern Family.
Denton: Well, the gays are really gay. They're central characters. They're not just there as the single career girl's sympathetic friend. And they've an intrinsic part of a show which appeals to a wide red swathe of the US in a way that Sex and the City or Will and Grace never did.
[As for] news shows. The only one I could think of was Jon Stewart. Which shows how much broader the view of news has become. When people talk too much of the "revolutionary" impact of blogs, I'll always mention one progenitor. The conversational style in news media started with the Daily Show, not with Gawker and the blogs.
Q: What irritates you in the print and online media world?
Denton: Fake news. I don't mean fake news in the Fox News sense. I mean the fake news that clogs up most newspapers and most news websites, for that matter. The new initiative will go nowhere. The new policy isn't new at all. The state won't go bankrupt. The product isn't revolutionary. And journalists pretend that these official statements and company press releases actually constitute news. Of course the public knows that most of these stories are published for the massaging of sources -- and that's why they don't read them.
What's news? Online, at least, we have the numbers. So we know that few people care about the twists and turns of state legislation, for instance -- or about product announcements from any company other than Apple. So we have no excuse. I'm on a jihad within Gawker against fake news. Unless the twin towers are falling or Brett Favre actually sent the cock shot, it probably isn't news.
I learned the news business in the UK, in which newspaper political coverage is much like cable TV news in the US. Fake news, manufactured, hyped, rehashed, retracted -- until at the end of the week you know no more than at the beginning. You really might as well wait for a weekly like the Economist to tell you what the net position is at the end of the week.
To follow the daily or hourly news cycle is the media equivalent of day-trading: it's frenzied, pointless and usually unprofitable. I'd much rather read an item which just showed me the photos or documents. And if you're going to write some text, take a position or explain something to me. Give me opinion or reference; just don't pretend you're providing news. That's not news.
Q: Any specific publications that get under your skin?
Well, Rachelle Hruska of Guest of a Guest is a nasty piece of work -- but I haven't looked at that site in months, so I can't say it's annoying.
Huffington Post is remarkably ugly to look at and I find their commenters inane. But I admire Huffington's hustle and Jonah Peretti has a fertile product imagination.
Oh, I know what I do find annoying! Entitled commenters. There is a certain type, probably the reader who would have written endless letters to the editor in an earlier era. They look much more numerous -- in the comments or on Twitter -- than they are. And they feel that writers should cater entirely to them, that they are the only readers who matter somehow. Self-aggrandizing commenters are even more annoying than self-aggrandizing bloggers!