Why is this interesting? - The Monday Media Diet with Charlie Warzel

On newsletters, media grazing, and personal weather stations

Time for another edition of Monday Media Diet, our weekly interview with interesting people about the things they’re interested in. This week’s diet comes from Charlie Warzel (CW), who you have almost definitely been reading lots from over the last year as he’s dug deep into the relationship between privacy and technology for the New York Times. - Noah (NRB)

Tell us about yourself.

Professionally, I’m a writer at large for the New York Times Opinion section. I write columns, newsletters, and work on bigger investigative projects in the world of tech/media/politics. Basically, I cover the ways the internet is breaking our brains. Personally, I’m a still-new Montana resident. That means I spend every non-work hour trying to master new outdoorsy hobbies like fishing, skiing, hiking, and floating lazily down rivers.

Describe your media diet. 

It’s so, so bad. I am the architect of my own personal content hell. It’s very heavily Twitter based, which is part of the problem. From 2016-2018 I was deep in covering the pro-Trump media and still follow a lot of those folks—so I usually have two versions of reality bounding through my timeline. I wouldn’t recommend this for one’s sanity but I’ve learned to sift through it and it’s often clarifying to see how different our partisan information ecosystems are. On Twitter I find a lot of the utility comes from weird, quirky threads that pop into my feed and introduce me to some amazing academic doing research, who I’ll then go read or email. I really love getting exposed to some new line of thinking on a subject. Often, it’ll prompt me to go and research a different topic that’s tangential to my usual work and I’ll get inspired. 

I subscribe to probably 15-20 newsletters that I don’t always read but I usually open one or two each morning, evening and catch up on them. Matt Levine’s Money Stuff, The Margins, David Leonhardt’s morning newsletter, Why Is This Interesting (duh), a few Axios ones, Luke O’Neil’s Hell World, Anne Helen Petersen’s The Collected AHP, Brian Stelter’s daily media newsletter, and BuzzFeed News’ The Stakes. I’m also really into the idea of limited run newsletters around a specific news event. There were like three excellent impeachment newsletters and I really appreciated getting them each night because it was a nearly impossible story to keep up with.

I have yet to come up with a good way to manage podcasts so I subscribe to many and fall way behind. I’m basically only interested in chat podcasts—I have this irrational fatigue with the public radio voice of overproduced pods. I feel that Ezra Klein’s podcast broadens my knowledge each week. I really love all the Ringer’s podcasts. My favorite now is The Hottest Take, which is exclusive to Spotify and only 7 minutes long and makes me laugh out loud almost every day.

Overall, my relationship with media is that I consume far too much of it. And I do it haphazardly. It’s so imperfect but I’m trying.

What’s the last great book you read?

This is a cheat because it’s still in progress but it’s so long that I think I should count. I’m reading Ducks, Newburyport. It’s a 900+ page stream of consciousness book about a mother in Ohio. Somebody on Twitter recently described it as James Joyce, if he were addicted to Twitter. And that feels right—but it’s truly immersive.

What are you reading now?

I like to read one non-fiction and one fiction book at the same time which doesn’t always lead to me finishing expediently but oh well! Right now I’m reading Lurking by Joanne McNeil, which is a really excellent history of how real people interact with the internet in very human ways. I’m also reading Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson which is a true delight. I picked it up after reading this equally delightful NYT review by Taffy Brodessor-Ackner titled “In Kevin Wilson’s New Novel, Rageaholic Twins Spontaneously Combust.” Enough said.

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

I am the opposite of a completist when it comes to any print publication. I seek out the table of contents and I read whatever seems interesting and have zero guilt if I just can’t get around to it. I think people put so much unnecessary pressure on themselves to justify purchasing ~content~ when it’s in physical form. But who cares?! Graze on it. Read the whole thing front to back. Use it to line a birdcage. You did a good thing by supporting the institution by purchasing it. Everything else is gravy.

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

My wunderkind colleague Emma Goldberg has perhaps the highest batting average of anyone writing at the NYT right now and if you don’t know her now you should. Tressie McMillan Cottom is excellent in everything she writes. I love Emily Atkin’s ‘Heated’ climate newsletter. You should also be reading Julian Brave NoiseCat. I feel like I get so much out of every Osita Nwanevu piece I read. If you’re not following Jane Coaston, you’re doing things wrong. Since I assume a lot of people reading this live in NYC, you should be reading Mara Gay. I’m so frequently jealous of Julia Carrie Wong’s work at the Guardian. And Whitney Phillips now has a column at Wired and her work on information pollution has changed the way I see the internet.

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

This is shamefully nerdy but this year I got a personal weather station for our house. I mounted it to our roof and calibrated it and it records everything—rainfall, humidity, wind, pressure, you name it. It has an app that tracks everything called My AcuRite. I’m aware I’m very weird, but the weather in our area of the country is always changing and when I’m traveling I love to check in and know exactly what’s happening exactly where I live. It’s a piece of technology that feels so grounding to a physical place, which I love. 

Plane or train?

Plane! I am always seduced by the idea of train travel in America. In my head I convince myself I’m going to sit down and have a super productive few hours, maybe get a coffee, and watch the world go by. In reality, I can’t connect to the internet, the cafe car is closed, I accidentally sat down in the quiet car and my phone rang and people are now mad. It’s a mess. Flying is its own nightmare but we all seem to know now what we’ve signed up for when we enter an airport.

What is one place everyone should visit? 

There’s so much anxiety now around vacations. You have to pick the perfect destination! It has to look good on your social media feeds! There’s just such a glut of review sites and info that planning what to do once you’re there is a job in itself. I don’t want to add to that so here’s my advice. My partner and I have recently adopted a framework for planning trips, which is when we are burned out and need a break, we try to figure out what it is we need from that break. Is it a full, true disconnect from, like, modern life? If so, then something outdoorsy (hiking, rafting) and remote is best. If it’s that we need to indulge a bit, then maybe a beach or a trip to a new city. I think people get pressured into trips that don’t feel like vacations because they’re not really attuned to what they need from not working. I know I wasn’t until recently. And this strategy has worked really well.

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

Like a lot of people, I’ve been closely following the Coronavirus developments the last few weeks. I stumbled on this great site, The Prepared, which is basically Wirecutter for preppers.’ It’s very well done and calm and rational and not panicky or political. I started reading a lot of the posts in there (their Coronavirus guide is great). And it sent me down a prepper rabbit hole. There’s something really calming to me about looking at different ways people prepare and imagining how I might become a disaster completist. It combines a lot of my favorite elements of internet browsing and niche online communities. Plus, I found a new universe of products I don’t need but desperately want—like a chest freezer for my garage. 

But, if you’re looking for a lighter rabbit hole, I suggest this.

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Charlie (CW)


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