Shani O. Hilton: What I Read

BuzzFeed deputy editor-in-chief Shani O. Hilton explains the underestimated value of TV morning talk shows, her heavy reliance on "Dark Social," and how she prefers to curate her friends rather than her news sources.

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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 conversation with Shani O. Hilton, BuzzFeed's deputy editor-in-chief.

The first thing I do in the morning is look at my phone, which is usually somewhere under my pillow. Which is kind of depressing to think about. Then I just immediately look to see if there are emails that I need to worry about, because a big part of my job is answering questions from my editors and my reporters, like stuff on standards and corrections. And [because] we have people in different time zones, all of a sudden there's something that I need to respond to the first thing when I get up. In the process of doing that, I scan other subject lines in my inbox, which gives me a sense of what various teams are working on.

Once I get out of bed, I have this ritual where I put on a kettle for tea, play music, open my laptop, and turn on my television to local news. Usually I'll look at what Fox5 has with the weather and commute, and then also turn over to the Today show and just put that on mute with closed captioning.

I think people kind of underestimate the value of network morning talk shows.

I used to work the really early morning shift at the locally owned and operated NBC station in D.C., and so we all had televisions on our desks, and having Today on is kind of a habit for me. I think people kind of underestimate the value of network morning talk shows in their ability to convey news and what's trending, what's happening. Half the time I get into the office and I'm like, "Yeah, I saw that on the Today Show." I think a lot of people my age or younger don't see the value in local news. It's kind of kitschy and kind of silly sometimes, but I find it a really nice break from the Internet version of news.

I find my personal timeline of the 600 people or however many I follow to be a bit overwhelming, so I usually pay more attention to lists or columns in TweetDeck. I use the BuzzFeed editorial list a lot, which is great because it kind of gives me everything. We have a lot of really funny people on staff, so I get to see their jokes and then their lists, and also whatever has been published overnight. And it gives me a really good sense of 1) What's on, and 2) What people are paying attention to in the morning.

I'm usually in the office by 10. We're not an early morning company. My commute is like 20 minutes, so I don't really consume much media beyond the Beyoncé album. Normally I'm listening to music. Sometimes I play Candy Crush. I kind of use it as a break from looking at screens, though. It's kind of my own 20 minutes where I don't consume anything, just enjoy the commute.

Compared to maybe a year ago, I pay a lot less attention to Twitter.

Over the course of the day I have Twitter open; usually Tweetdeck on one screen so I can see what's happening. But actually I get a lot of my news ... it comes to me, in a way, because I sit near our breaking news team. So I usually have one ear on what they're doing and talking about. Then I dip into their chatroom, which is kind of an insane place full of crazy links. I listen a lot to what people in the newsroom are talking about, which is the nice thing about having a little bit of a noisy newsroom.

I find that, compared to maybe a year ago, I pay a lot less attention to Twitter than I did. I find it more of a distraction that I checked compulsively. So I ended up taking the app off of my phone actually. Which makes my time away from my computer a lot more peaceful. If I absolutely have to look at Twitter – which I realize that I don't – I will view the mobile site. But I don't really use it [on mobile]. So normally, on my phone, I use it to look at Instagram, Snapchat, iMessage my friends, that kind of thing. I use it more for social things than news gathering.

Email for me is the biggest place where I get information, between being on a million different lists at work (we have 153 employees in editorial), they are constantly talking on email about what's going on in the world. My friends use a lot of email, so I'm usually on a couple of email threads about, I don't know, Kim Kardashian, and the essays that everyone is talking about over the course of the day. I subscribe to Rusty Foster's Today In Tabs, which everybody is looking at now. What's funny is he gives me a sense of what quote-unquote "everyone" in media has been talking about over the course of the day, and it means that I can kind of check out from that conversation and just read it in an email, which is a lot more fun than doing it in real time. It's really great because it means I don't have to pay attention to the actual conversation. I can just get a digest of the annoying things that have been happening all day. So email is a big part of my life.

When I'm feeling very virtuous, I have a bookmarked folder of a bunch of traditional news sites. The [New York] Times, The Guardian, BBC News, USA Today, NBC, and I'll occasionally open all of those tabs up, and just do a quick cycle-through and see what's going on. But normally by that point there's not much that I haven't heard.

I guess I am really dark social, which is weird considering I work at such a social place.

Sometimes I look at Facebook, like two or three times a day, and see what people are talking about there. I do a lot of floating around to different places where people are talking, rather than going directly to the sites. Usually it all ends up coming to me. It's really rare that I don't see something in my inbox, in my Twitter stream, or in my chat before I see it on a site. I guess I am really "Dark Social," which is weird considering I work at such a social place.

I subscribe to New York magazine so I read that, actually in print. When I lived in D.C., I subscribed to [The WashingtonPost on a daily basis, and I miss reading a daily paper, but I haven't quite figured out how to fit the Times into my routine. Like I [don't want to] have a stack of New York Times I haven't read right next to the stack of New Yorkers I haven't read. I have subscriptions to New York magazine, GQ, Esquire. I also had, up until recently, subscriptions to TNR and The Atlantic, but they are less interesting now than they were. The most traditional reading experience that I have is sitting at my dining room table and flipping through New York magazine.

A lot of the stuff just bubbles up through the people I work with. When I'm reading other media diets, I don't know how people have the time to read all the things they say they read, because I spend so much time just responding to email and answering questions and putting out fires. For me, I've basically tried to curate the people around me in such a way that they are bringing me information so I don't have to go looking for it.

I've basically tried to curate the people around me in such a way that they are bringing me information so I don't have to go looking for it.

One person — and this is not sucking up — but I do actually look at my boss's Twitter feed regularly to see what he's tweeted (BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith) because he's often tweeting things that are interesting that would not normally cross my radar in terms of politics and world news. Also Lisa Tozzi, our news director, who came from the Times and is great at news and knows everything that's going on. Outside of BuzzFeed, I often tend to look at a few friends of mine who work at other publications like Gawker, Vox Media, The Verge. And a few bloggers, like Mallory OrtbergJenna Wortham is awesome.

I think I have a fairly diverse timeline in terms of people that I follow, which is women and people of color. That often gives me a little bit of an advantage in terms of knowing when things are bubbling up before other people do, because I follow a lot of quote-unquote "Black Twitter." Often I'll see things happening over there before they cross over.

[The emails only stop] if I close my computer and turn my phone off, and then maybe I'll watch an episode of Chopped and go to bed. I have to give all of my attention to Chopped; I can't watch it with a second screen. It's a fun show. I've been in New York a year now, and it's really fun when they have chefs on from restaurants that are in my neighborhood. It's weird to think "Oh, I could just go over there." I walk by them. I don't know that I actually have time to go.

My media diet is basically me trying to see what's happening in the world in between answering email. I don't do hate-reads actually. Who has time for hate-reads? I might read a sentence and then move on. I think I spend too much time stressing about other stuff that I don't wanna spend my time of personal pleasure on things that I don't enjoy. 

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