Don’t Let Social Media Tell You What to Read

A distraction-free guide to all the websites a Slate business and economics writer visits more than 20 times a month.

Illustration by Slate. Portrait illustration by Charlie Powell.

What sites do you visit at least 20 times per month? In 20x, we ask Slatesters about their real “media diets”—the corners of the Internet that they return to every day, for better or worse.

I’d like to preface this by saying that I’m a terrible consumer of media. I don’t go to home pages. I subscribe to the New York Times’ DealBook newsletter because I write about business and it seems like the responsible thing to do, but I hardly ever read it. My copies of the New Yorker, the only magazine I subscribe to, are piled so high that they’re more useful as a bedside table than as reading material.

So, what do I actually read?

Feedly (150x per month): In case you aren’t familiar with it, Feedly is one of those RSS readers that replaced Google Reader on the sad, sad day that Google discontinued it. Feedly is how I organize my daily media consumption. I subscribe to 59 sources—mostly on business, tech, and econ—that range from mainstream (the New York Times business section, Re/code) to bloggy (the Wall Street Journal’s Moneybeat, FT Alphaville, Quartz), to really, really wonky (FRED Blog, the weekly National Bureau of Economics Research paper dump). I also use Feedly to keep tabs on news about my hometown, my friends’ Tumblrs and travel blogs, and the few sites I like to read in my spare time, of which Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency is my hands-down favorite. The beauty of an RSS reader is that you don’t have to waste time refreshing a home page to check for new content. If one of your subscriptions publishes something, it pushes the new content out to your feed—and voilà, you have it. Feedly makes you a lazy news consumer, but an incredibly efficient one.

Pocket (30x): When I’m at my desk, I use Feedly. When I’m on my phone, I use Pocket, an app that lets you save online articles for offline reading. If you spend a not-insignificant portion of your day commuting, this is highly worthwhile. Pocket strips articles down to the essentials—headlines, body text, and art. Stories that are paginated online display as easy-to-scroll single pages. I think it’s my favorite way to read long-form content.

Newsletters (30x): I mentioned that I subscribe to DealBook, but honestly it’s kind of dry, and Feedly tends to surface the same headlines. The two newsletters I do read regularly, and love, are Dave Pell’s NextDraft and Matt Levine’s Money Stuff—the first because it reliably has a good mix of funny, quirky, important, and interesting content, the second because Matt Levine always has at least one line that makes me laugh, which is rare when you’re reading about mergers and bond market liquidity.

Email (1,000x): They say people share articles on “social.” I don’t know about you, but my friends and I do most of our sharing by email, where we can send links and have lengthy discussions about them as we read. Social isn’t like that. Most social shares are either fleeting (Twitter), subject to the whims of an algorithm (Facebook), or acts of performance (both). You can tweet the world’s greatest magazine article or post the funniest listicle of the week, but if your audience logs on at the wrong time, it’ll never see it, and you’ll probably be sad about your scant likes or retweets.

Social sharing is all about moments, and moments make sense for sporadic hits—things you wouldn’t have sought out—but not for systematic media consumption.

Also, I don’t really get Snapchat, and I don’t use Instagram. I know.

Slack (I-don’t-even-know-how-many-x): Remember what I said about email sharing? Slack is like email on steroids. It’s more searchable and partitioned than social, but it’s also somewhat fleeting. Avoid Slack too long and hundreds of messages run together in threads, forcing you to scroll back for the important info you missed or throw up your hands and ignore it. That said, I’ll second Laura Bennett: seeing “Several people are typing” appear on a discussion is the best indication of an interesting topic.

Podcasts (>30x): The best thing about podcasts is that there are so many wonderful ones. The worst thing about podcasts is that there are so many wonderful ones. I subscribe to This American Life, Radiolab, Planet Money, and too many Slate shows to enumerate here. I used to have a lot more, but keeping up was impossible.

Books (>30x): Always have two books going, that way you can switch off if one starts to drag. Right now I have The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby by Tom Wolfe. It’s a fun pairing.

Slate (>100x): I read Slate! But you knew that.