Why is this interesting? - The Monday Media Diet with Kevin Arnovitz

On media buffets, the difference between language and talking, the strange seating configurations of American living rooms

Kevin Arnovitz (KA) is one of my favorite NBA reporters. If you’re a basketball fan you’ve surely read his stuff at ESPN or heard him talk about his summer vacation on The Lowe Post. He links to a few amazing ones below and I also highly recommend the 2018 piece he co-authored with Kevin PeltonHow the NBA got its groove back”, which is the best article on the evolution of basketball I’ve read. - Noah (NRB)

Tell us about yourself.

I’ve covered the NBA for ESPN for the past 12 years. In recent seasons, I’ve spent far less time on game coverage and the daily churn of the league, and more on reporting features about everything from the NBA’s tensions with China to a soccer dad stealing millions from the NBA team that employs him. I also host a Top Chef podcast called “Pack Your Knives.” Prior to that, I worked for the public radio show “Marketplace,” NPR’s “Day to Day,” Slate, the Zagat guide, and North Carolina senatorial candidate Harvey Gantt. I also wrote episodes of teen television, and sold beer in the aisles at the Kingdome in Seattle. I live in Los Angeles with my partner, where an acquisition of a golden retriever in 2021 is likely. 

Describe your media diet. 

It’s a very large buffet at a gaudy Las Vegas hotel. 

I start with a quick survey of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times. 

In recent years, I tend to seek out individual reporters and voices I’ve grown to admire, wherever they’re publishing: Rukmini Callimachi, Jiayang Fan, Wesley Morris, Kathryn Schulz, Zadie Smith, John Lanchester, Nick Paumgarten, Caitlin Flanagan (her essay on the college admissions scandal was the single best piece I read last year), Frank Foer, Hilton Als, Jodi Kantor, Evan Osnos, Dexter Filkins, Jon Lee Anderson, Atul Gawande, Andrew Sullivan, Jill Lepore, Graeme Wood, Wesley Yang

I’ll go weeks without listening to a podcast in favor of music, then weeks when I rotate back. Fresh Air is my innings eater, and I can listen to Terry Gross interview anyone. I’m ideologically promiscuous, and like listening to people I agree with between 35 and 65 percent of the time.The Red Scare ladies are interesting, as are Eric Weinstein, Sam Harris, Intelligence Squared, Still Processing and The Daily from the New York Times, Nick Robinson’s UK politics podcast on BBC, as well as their Arts & Ideas podcast. A favorite subgenre: Joe Rogan interviewing extreme athletes on topics like how to contend with sharks during a 24-hour open-water swim

Frontline is a staple in the house—it’s a weekly clinic in reporting. Rachel Maddow is insanely smart, and there’s nothing like her show on television. I’ll put on the first segment if I’m home cooking and there’s no NBA basketball I need to watch. 

Airline mileage websites like “One Mile at a Time” are my junk food. I’m a notorious hoarder of miles and hopeless AvGeek -- an occupational hazard. If Alaska Airlines has bagged a major gulf carrier as a loyalty partner, or Delta has installed new first-class suites on a long-haul route, I want to know. 

What’s the last great book you read?

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. The book is about the difference between language and talking, the power and the powerlessness of verbal communication. It takes place in a very particular moment in the late 90s, but so much of the novel is informed by the present, and Lerner is up-front about it. From the outset, he makes it clear that you-the-reader are bringing your knowledge of the contemporary conversation to these events. 

What are you reading now?

A Rap on Race. In 1970, James Baldwin and Margaret Mead sat down for three conversations over two days. Mead is the sober scientist—one with great empathy—who has observed humanity more intimately than anyone. Baldwin is the man of letters, steeped in historical narrative and lived experience. The contours of the dialogue are fascinating to examine through the lens of today.

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

In the New Yorker—the cartoons, of course. 

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

Jacob Siegel wrote an incredible piece of narrative policy reporting in American Affairs last year on homelessness in Los Angeles. I also love his stuff at Tablet. He hosts a podcast with author Phil Klay called Manifesto! Each episode, they tackle a definitive treatise (from, say, W.E.B. Du Bois or Hannah Arendt), as well as a piece of contemporary art (Radiohead’s “OK Computer” or a short story by Mavis Gallant). At times, it’s over my head, but I’m always along for the ride. 

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

For $7 per month, Audm gives you the unabridged audio version of longform pieces from most of the leading top-shelf publications. For anyone who spends time in the car or in the kitchen cooking or just wants to shut your eyes on a flight and listen, it’s a miracle.

Plane or train?

The romantic appeal of trains is lost on me. When the novelty wears off after 90 minutes, I want to jump off into the landscape I’m watching fly by in a metal tube. 

What is one place everyone should visit? 

Ethiopia is profoundly ancient, and the highlands in the Simien Mountains are like the surface of Mars, if Mars had gelada baboons. Then there’s the coffee and cuisine. 

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

When I can’t sleep or am in prime procrastination mode, I will choose an American city or town at random, log onto Redfin or Trulia and find some potential homes. But before I settle on one, I investigate whether it’s in close proximity to a running trail or lap pool, or an easy walk or quick drive from some quality food options. What’s the public transit situation? Where will I go for yoga? Real estate photos reveal some amazing things: Like, why do people insist on seating for 20 in their living rooms?

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Kevin (KA)

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