Jonah Peretti: What I Read

The CEO of Buzzfeed and a co-founder of The Huffington Post talks about his break with partisan journalism and how cute animals make us human.

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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 Jonah Peretti, CEO of BuzzFeed and a co-founder of The Huffington Post. 

I usually sleep in to about 8:30. Before I leave home, I separate the business or sports section from The New York Times for the subway ride—the only two sections my wife lets me take.  I'll also take New York magazine with me on the train, which is the only magazine I subscribe to. (After I had twins, that put an end to my New Yorker and Economist subscriptions and my ability to read long-form articles in general.)

The main way I discover information is my Twitter feed and my Facebook news feed. One of the interesting things about this Media Diet column is if people were honest, I think they would give more credit to Facebook and Twitter, which can mean totally different things depending on who you are. But social is the new starting point. On Twitter, I follow my folks Ben Smith, Zeke Miller, Matt Stopera, my sister Chelsea Peretti, who's a very funny standup comedian, and a fair amount of people I don't even know. For trade stuff, I read the Gabe Rivera sites: Techmeme, Memeorandum and Mediagazer, which is a quick way to see what everyone in the industry is talking about. I'll also follow a few of those services that aggregate the most retweeted and favorited tweets like I don't watch that much TV but I like The Wire and Mad Men. l'll also occasionally find myself weeping during an episode of Friday Night Lights after my wife puts it on.

As for the talking-heads political shows, I don't really watch them, which I think says something about my preferences. When we started The Huffington Post, I wasn't interested in business. I wanted to see a Democrat get elected president. After the Bush years, and seeing the Netroots movement, they seemed so hopelessly naive. If we all just blog a lot, we'll save the world. They didn't understand how power works and that's why I got excited about The Huffington Post. But after doing it for a while, it got exhausting. I started to get fatigued by partisan journalism and partisan reporting and columnists who have to be controversial: This is wrong, this is right. Being in the belly of the beast at HuffPo drained me.

That's why meeting and working with Ben Smith has been so refreshing. He just says, let's find out stuff that no one knows and get that information to the public. He has sources on the left and sources on the right and is just genuinely curious about what people don't know yet. I had some liberal friend say to me the other day, "What if you get something that would sink the Obama campaign?" Well, that would be awesome if we got a great scoop like that. If you believe that good reporting and journalism matters, how could you say you should hide something from the public? The candidate's obviously not that good if it would kill his campaign.

I think I've become newly-energized around a non-partisan version of reporting where you find something out that you didn't know before. As a result, I like media personalities that are more like Ben. Not so focused on their public persona and profile but on figuring out how they can add to the conversation. When you ask who are my favorite media personalities, the familiar lineup doesn't come to mind because those people have to act like they know a lot. It's better to be humble and add to the story.

Another aspect of modern media consumption is the mashing together of content. With Facebook and Twitter people are sharing all different types of media from humor to cute kittens to Internet memes to serious substantive reporting. BuzzFeed, as a publisher, brings all this together. The argument that cute animal posts dumb down your audience has never made sense to me. I like to think of a smart Frenchman at a cafe reading Le Monde and smoking a pipe. A lot of French cafes have dogs, so he pauses to pet the dog. When he's petting the dog, he doesn't get dumb and when he goes back to Le Monde, he doesn't suddenly get smart. Humans are complex and there are all these different interests that don't have to be perfectly resolved. You can like tabloid stuff and cute animal stuff and really smart substantive reporting. That's not a contradiction. That's just being human.

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