Ann Friedman: What I Read

The freelance writer and beloved pie chart-maker is forever catching up with the East Coast and can't live without Instapaper.

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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 a phone conversation with Ann Friedman, freelance writer and regular columnist at The Cut and the Columbia Journalism Review.

I'm on the West Coast, so by the time I wake up, which is usually sometime around 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning — not super early — the Internet is already just teeming with stuff. Everybody on the East Coast has been awake for hours and is already kind of in late-morning mode. It's funny, when I'm on the East Coast now and I wake up, I'm like, "There's nothing online yet!" because I'm so used to there already being a conversation in news or whatever.

So I usually do the whole grab-my-phone-and-look-at-it-an-inch-from-my-nose because I'm horribly nearsighted and probably haven't put my glasses on yet. I check my email first, especially if I'm waiting on edits. I'll sometimes file things in the evening and my editors will edit first thing and then reply to me. Then I'll read or skim through The New York Times' 'Today's Paper.' Just all of the headlines. I'm not even out of bed yet. It's like, emails first, then the Times headlines, then maybe six thumb clicks through Twitter. Maybe eight, ten depending on how lazy I'm feeling in bed.  

My schedule varies a lot day-to-day depending on what I'm working on. I write a weekly column at The Cut and if I don't have a column idea nailed down yet for that week, or if it's the end of the week and I'm looking for something for the next week, after I get up and make coffee, I'll sort of run through all the ladyblogs — Jezebel and The Hairpin and The XX Factor at Slate — and see what the big stories of the day are and try to look for connections between them, because that's sort of where my column tends to come in. Sometimes I will start talking about ideas with my editor Friday or over the weekend and then I'll report on Monday and write on Tuesday. Other times we'll spend most of Monday going back and forth about ideas for things that take less reporting, and then I'll write Tuesday, we'll edit Wednesday. It almost always runs on a Thursday.

I also write a column for the Columbia Journalism Review, so if I have that due I'll kind of do a scan through the media sites as well. Again, just like: what are the headlines of the day, that sort of thing. But that column is every other week, so it kind of just depends what I'm on deadline for.

I use Twitter to figure out what the big stories of the day are. But especially if I'm writing or on deadline, I'm not someone who has it open and is interacting all day on Twitter. I'll have a day where I'm really tuned in to Twitter, which might also be a day when I'm emailing things, but if I have a writing day I'll barely check it. Probably if you did some analysis of my Twitter feed, it would be a day when I tweet 15 times, followed by three days when I don't tweet at all. I'm not addicted.

After that first initial check with my phone, there is no typical day. I'm working on probably six different assignments at any given time in different stages. It could be I'm doing preliminary reporting on something for a pitch and I will be researching that all afternoon. It could be that I'm still on the hunt for a column idea, in which case I will keep checking back with Twitter and Tumblr and The Times and The Atlantic and some of the cultural criticism sites I like. But it's tough; after that initial thing it really just depends what I'm on deadline for that day and what I have due, so it's hard for me to answer [laughs].

Throughout the day as I'm coming across things on Twitter (I'll do a little bit of checking on Facebook and a little bit of scrolling through Tumblr as well) I'm constantly sending things to Instapaper. So when I've probably filed what I'm going to file for the day, I will take an hour or two and read through everything I've sent to Instapaper for the day. If I'm looking for column ideas I'll read things in the moment, but most of what I do when I'm coming across things to read is send it to Instapaper to read later. And then once a day or every other day, go through the queue.

I check The New York Times every single day. I would say that's really the only thing I read every single day no matter what. Probably in some form I read The New Yorker and New York magazine and The Atlantic and that's probably it. Well, Slate ... that I read at least every other day. But unless I'm on vacation or something, I read The New York Times every day. I'm a huge fan of the Harper's Weekly [newsletter]; it's a lovely little news summary of what happened in the week. I get this daily email called "The Skimm"; my former coworker [and current Quartz writer] Tim Fernholz forwarded it to me kind of jokingly. It's basically a daily news summary with a women's mag "You go, girl!" tone. I signed up kind of like a hate-read, but I actually find it quite useful. When I'm having a day when I'm on the hunt for ideas, I will open all this stuff. But when I'm having a day when I'm just writing and reporting something I've already been assigned, I won't.

I would say that if I haven't taken time out in the afternoon to go through what I sent to Instapaper that day, I will do that in the evening before I go to sleep—read five or six shorter things and maybe one or two longform articles. If it's not that, I'm always reading a book. Sometimes that's something I'm reading for work, like something I'm reviewing or a book on a topic I'm writing about, and I try to break that up with fiction when I can. So the last thing I look at [before bed] is almost always a book, but sometimes my Instapaper. I just finished I Love Dick, which is kind of like a literary memoir that Chris Kraus wrote in 1997. It's something that is highly praised by lots of feminists I know, but I'd never taken time out to read. And it's great. I just finished it yesterday. 

I get The New York Times in print on Sundays. And I get The New Yorker and New York and I think I still get Vanity Fair? And then I'm always buying one-off issues of stuff. Whenever I travel, but any time I go to the bookstore I'll also buy a couple of magazines. And I subscribe to The New Inquiry digitally, so I get basically a PDF. I'm kind of bad about podcasts. I don't commute anywhere for work and I'm always working with words, so the idea of finding time to listen to a podcast—I haven't really found a convenient time for it. I listen to the Longform podcast. When I'm feeling less than inspired about my work it helps me to listen to other journalists talk about work because I don't work in a newsroom anymore. That's kind of it. I listen to music while I work, not other people's words.

I guess I read fiction solely for pleasure. That's not for work at all. I think it makes me a better writer to read fiction, but in no direct way does it affect my work.  I don't know if music counts as "media" for this, but all the music I listen to is totally for pleasure, not for work. I mean occasionally I will [write about music], but very rarely. I also read the Sunday newspaper in print. That's a pursuit that is 100 percent for me.

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