The Monday Media Diet with Kelly Berold

On unread newsletters, Africa, and The New Yorker's Ben Taub

Kelly Berold (KB) is a friend of WITI currently based in Cape Town. She’s a true information omnivore (like many of our readers), and it is a pleasure hearing what is keeping her attention this morning. Have a great week. -Colin (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

I'm a bit of a well-rounded media hack – which is to say I've worked in various corners of the mediaverse (PR, publishing, news) but never long enough to claim a specialty. Mainly I'm a strategist, project lead, and writer-editor. Right now I'm a partner at the design firm Studio Collective, where I co-lead brand strategy, and occasionally do writing and research things for policy organizations. I'm South African by origin, but I moved to Paris in 2016, and then to New York for grad school, and then back to Cape Town when the pandemic hit. So that's where I am writing from currently, mercifully. I abandoned my byline a few years ago and keep threatening to resurrect it. 

Describe your media diet. 

I read like a 45-year-old man, at least in the morning: I'll skim through the headlines of The New York TimesThe New YorkerThe Guardian (UK)FTThe Atlantic, and bookmark any long or interesting reads for the weekend. Lately, I've been trying to be more writer-focused, so I'll see what Thomas Chatterton WilliamsYasmeen SerhanHelen Lewis, Ed Yong, and others are writing and thinking about. 

Much of my media consumption happens in the form of podcasts, preferably involving two or more people and smart discussion: current favorites include the Slate Culture GabfestLeft, Right and CenterOn Being; Ezra Klein's show; How to Fail; and The Guilty Feminist, which is hilarious. I'm also really into day-in-the-life type interviews that allow me to creep on other people's careers and methods of working, so I'll dip into LongformDesign Matters, and Slate's Working podcast for that fix. 

My inbox is a cesspit of unread newsletters, but those I do read usually provide inspiration for work, or tell me what great reads I've been missing out on, like Steve Bryant's substackSonder & Tell'sThe WordThe Browser, and Foreign Policy Interrupted.

What's the last great book you read?

I am, I am, I am by Maggie O'Farrell, which is technically a reread. It's a memoir as told through the author's many near-death experiences, with each chapter named after a part of the body. I'm a sucker for that sort of structural playfulness. That and resplendent writing, which this has so much of. 

What are you reading now?

On Immunity by Eula Biss, a 2014 book that explores the history of vaccines and vaccine resistance. I tried to avoid political or news-related books this year, but someone recommended it and so far it is fascinating.

What's your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?

I'm typically guided by a writer, a section I know well, or a subject/headline that I know I want to read. If it's a perfunctory skim-through of a magazine, I'll go back-to-front. I still have no clue why. 

What is the best non-famous app on your phone?

I'm pretty thrilled with what I've been given: the weather app, access to the internet, and honest-to-goodness note-taking app. That said, I love Skyscanner (is it non-famous?) for the escapism-meets-utility joy it serves me.

Who should everyone be reading that they're not?

There's a 99% chance I'll recommend someone that everyone is reading. Pre-pandemic, I would have said Ed Yong, who hooked me with a story on the history of whale earwax back in 2018, and whose science reporting is sublime. Same for Allison P. Davis over at The Cut. Ben Taub keeps hitting sixes with his reporting, and John Green's nerdy YouTube channel brings me endless joy. I also think everyone should have some taste of Cal Newport, especially if you're young and/or a little unmoored. 

(As far as what should everyone be reading, Project Syndicate is a criminally unmentioned world politics resource that I find really useful.)

What is one place everyone should visit? 

The African bush. "Should" is a luxury, but getting to see wildlife, that wild, in the wild, still floors me. And god, if it interests you in the slightest, go to New York at least once. As a kid, I used to think New Yorkers were so unlucky to not have New York to aspire to. I'm far less romantic about it now, but I do still think it's a place of wonder. 

Trains or planes?

Trains. Scenic, shorter pre-boarding wait. 

Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into.

Every so often, I'll get stuck in an obituary section death spiral (sorry), searching for screenplay materials or some formula for success. Slowly finding both. 

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Kelly (KB)

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