Hugo Gurdon: What I Read

The editor-in-chief of The Hill on news recommendations from Pulitzer Prize-winning Facebook friends, switching between American and British vocabulary for his children, and reading presidential letters for fun. 

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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 Hugo Gurdon, editor-in-chief at The Hill, a daily newspaper that covers Congress and politics in Washington. The British-born Gurdon is a former foreign correspondent for The Daily Telegraph.

The first thing I read when I wake up is my email, so it’s very administrative kind of reading. I have a VIP list on my phone of about 15 to 20 people, and several of those are within News Communications, which is the parent company of The Hill. The next thing, like a lot of people, is news reading, and that’s usually from Facebook and Twitter. My reading right from early in the day and throughout the day is very much via social media. I get my reading the way that a lot of websites get their traffic, which is to say mostly not by going to someone’s homepage, but because things have been read, shared, and recommended on social media. It’s a kind of crowdsourcing way to get quickly to what’s happened that day.

Facebook is more interesting because it’s more likely that I’ll see an interesting article from an unexpected source. It’s often a more thoughtful or analytic or data-driven read. One of my Facebook friends, and real friends, is the Pulitzer-Prize-winner Anne Applebaum, so I find the articles and videos she links to very useful and informative about what’s going on in Ukraine. I’m more likely to get something on Facebook that involves social science, whereas on Twitter suddenly everyone explodes because someone has an extraordinary story. I find Twitter quicker at alerting me to something that’s happening immediately. It’s the modern equivalent of the news wire service. It takes about 20 minutes to half an hour as I’m reading these things at home with all sorts of disruptions, like children and breakfast.

I’m on my iPhone to some extent in the car on the way to work; when I stop at a light I will check it. There’s a break from news reading at around 8:00 a.m., and I don’t really get back to that until about 9:00 or 9:30. I’m usually making phone calls between about 8:30 and 9:30, and then I get into the office and have a news meeting with the editors. So I might be looking at newspapers, and at op-ed pages. I read Charles Krauthammer, and Dan Henninger in The Wall Street Journal. I read David Frum, Paul Krugman, and various people who range right across the ideological spectrum, and I’m reading those on my desktop. I get the hard copies of newspapers like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, plus the congressional papers. I use the hour between getting into work and the morning news meeting to read as much as I can of those.

For the rest of the day, I’m reading whenever I’m not talking with somebody. I’m following what’s coming through social media, checking one or two people who I find interesting or useful. One of them is an old colleague of mine, Charles Laurence, who is a correspondent at The Week. He usually has an interesting take on what’s going on in American politics and American news. I also look at things from Britain, particularly an old friend, Dan Hannan, who’s also a Member of European Parliament. I do follow news at home, but not as closely as I would if I still worked for The Telegraph.

I read Dan Hannan’s blog at The Telegraph; he’s a very smart fellow. I often find that I’m reading the Guardian and the Daily Mail, and as I deliberately and naturally have friends who are across the political spectrum, the things that they link to are The Spectator, The Times of London. If I had to count on one hand what I most often found myself reading, those are they. I make sure I’m made aware of what’s going on in British politics, but not at a very deep-dive level. It’s quite difficult from here to keep in touch with the dynamics of the politics in the U.K., like exactly how strong or not the United Kingdom Independence Party is; how being in the coalition will have strengthened or weakened the Conservatives; how enfeebled the Liberal Democrats have become. One can’t really tell.

In terms of magazines, I get the New Yorker, and there’s always some splendid stuff in there. I don’t read it every week, but I enjoy what I get from it. I’ll sometimes read The Atlantic and the National Review, the New Republic, and The Spectator from the U.K. I’ve occasionally had a subscription to Rolling Stone, but not for a few years now, and I also occasionally read Vanity Fair and New York magazine. There’s far, far too much good journalism around for one to be in any way comprehensive. You just have to pick and choose and hope you get a good cross-section, and get the must-reads via your Twitter and Facebook friends.

While I watch very little TV, I watch it primarily for sport and I do like watching American football. I have been coming to North America since I was a quite a small boy and since then, have supported the Dallas Cowboys. Once one has decided which tribe one belongs to, you get more and more patriotic and fervent in support of that tribe. I watch Dallas Cowboys games whenever I can. I find myself switching between English and American vocabulary on that. I went to my eight-year-old daughter’s soccer game recently and in talking to her referred to it as “football.” She gave me a very peculiar look. I’ll watch the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, and I tend to keep an eye on what’s going on, on Sunday mornings on the political talk shows. Obviously, one can also pick that up on C-SPAN later. When I listen to the radio it’s usually not for news, it’s for classical music.

For fun, I read very widely, both fiction and non-fiction. I enjoy history and political history, and I just read a collection of letters great Americans have written to their children called Posterity. They’re just marvelous letters; sometimes encouraging letters, sometimes reprimanding letters. I was reading one from Theodore Roosevelt to his son, Kermit, and he was just talking about how puzzling it was to be president, that the challenges were very difficult, which was a rather nice way of describing it. I’ve been reading Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, including one called "A Good Man is Hard to Find." She’s a fabulous writer, but you have to be in a fairly robust mood to read them because they’re so haunting and grim, in some ways. If I could only read three news outlets for the rest of my life, they would be The Wall Street Journal, The Spectator, and The Hill. Naturally.

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