Why is this interesting? - The Monday Media Diet with Michael Williams

On craft, Japan, and the importance of consuming media outside of your viewpoint

We’ve been fans of Michael Williams (MW) for a long time. He wrote a influential style site called A Continuous Lean which has now been re-born as a newsletter. He’s always been a champion of craft, and quality, often taking a needed contrarian view in the face of the fast moving fashion industry. Here, he shares his sources of inspiration. We’re pleased to have him on the page. -Colin (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

I do a few different things, but most people know me from my site A Continuous Lean which started as a blog and has morphed into a newsletter. When I started my blog in 2007 I was part of the first wave of bloggers in the men's style space. This is sort of humorous because 1. I'm from Cleveland and 2. I'm not prototypical for a "fashion" guy. I think when some readers meet me they are slightly disappointed that I'm not actually as into dressing as much as they are. I come at style from the perspective of tradition, craft, and quality. I like old companies that have existed for a long time and rise above the concept of trends or fashion. It's not that I think what I am into is better than someone who's into trends — it's just what I'm personally inspired by. The good news about style is it's totally personal and there are no rules. People should present themselves however makes them happiest.

Describe your media diet. 

I feel like if you work in media and someone asks you what publication you really like the safest thing is to just say Cooks Illustrated. There seems to be a bit of pressure to over-curate these types of things in the way we all tend to over curate our Instagram feed. I liked Michael Bierut's recent entry because it seemed like an accurate representation of himself. That's my goal here — the good, the bad, and the ugly.  

My media consumption is all over the place and obviously includes the big media incumbents like The Atlantic, Bloomberg, NPR, GQ, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, LA Times, WSJ, and The New York Times. Although I've had to cut back on The Atlantic because it really makes me depressed. They are just so doom and gloom it's hard to take it on top of everything else that's going on. I try to read as much as I possibly can — that's when Apple News comes in handy.

Almost everything else I read is organized in Feedbin to keep my life manageable. That's where I read special interest stuff like The Wading List (fishing), Rescapement (watches), and Jay Revell's golf writing. I'm interested in anything Om Malik says anywhere. I read a lot of newsletters — everything from Airmail, The New Consumer, the 10 Things by the agency Your Majesty to the [sic] Weekly newsletter by the super-smart Vice OG Ben Dietz which directs me to a lot of stuff I wouldn't otherwise see. Then there's Morgen Post out of Denmark which is wonderful but I can't even read it. I just click whatever he links and there's always amazing stuff. I also read a lot of fashion stuff and look for original voices and viewpoints like those from Permanent Style, Business of Fashion, and The Contender by my friend (and collaborator) David Coggins. I like the Blamo! podcast which has all of the good menswear guests in one place. I get all of my sports news from The Athletic — that's where I can go to feel sad about the Cleveland Browns. 

The other podcasts I like are Coffee with the Greats, The Shack Show, Revisionist History, Scott Galloway's insane thing, A Media Operator and Choiceology

I do love indie print publications for some of my specific interests. I really like the magazine Racquet for Tennis. Some golf favorites are Catalogue 18, McKellar and Golfer's Journal. Modern Huntsman is very well done and beautiful. The Wm Brown magazine that my friend Matt Hranek created is great too. I generally don't read a lot of indie fashion magazines because I'm not a Fashion with a capital F type of guy and a lot of that indie fashion pub stuff doesn't do it for me. 

What’s the last great book you read?

The Power Broker by Robert Caro. I'm really interested in understanding how Robert Moses shaped NYC. I often imagine what SoHo would be like he built an expressway where Houston Street is. I'm also reading Caro's Lyndon Johnson books now. I hope he finishes the series. 

What are you reading now?

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. I love books that have themes of resilience like Endurance by Alfred Lansing. This is especially relevant right now. The way the Brits handled The Blitz says about all you need to know about their culture.

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

I don't know why, but I read most magazines back to front. I've worked in and around media my whole career so I sometimes will head directly for certain sections first — like the front of book service section in a men's general interest. I love to look at the ads too, especially with small indie publications. It's fun to see what brands still believe in print.

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

I think people should spend more time trying to consider what other people think and explore (trusted) media that is outside of your viewpoint. This could help with the massive empathy gap that exists in America. We are all just curating our feeds and our information intake to suit our beliefs — then it's a huge shocker when people are so divided. Obviously I'm not perfect, but I try and read things I don't agree with to try and understand with other people are thinking and going through.

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

Not sure if this is famous or not, but I love the app Audm (which The New York Times recently acquired). I discover a lot of stories that I otherwise wouldn't have read. Under normal circumstances in LA, I would be in the car a lot which is the perfect time to listen to Audm. We have a 5-month-old and it's much easier to listen than to read, so I get a lot out of my subscription. I'm surprised how many great Rolling Stone stories I listen to that I would likely have never read.

Plane or train?

Not to be obnoxious, if I am in Asia or Europe definitely a train. They are fast, cheap, and go right to the city center. It's a no brainer.

What is one place everyone should visit? 

Japan. It's just so great on so many levels. Even though Tokyo is a megacity it can be serene and peaceful. If you get out to the countryside it's even more wonderful. I just love everything about Japanese culture and how different everything is there. It feels good to sidestep globalization a bit when you go and find unique things to eat, drink, and explore.

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

During the pandemic, I've gone very deep into the world of solo trans-ocean sailing videos. Maybe that's because I am trapped in a house with chaos and two children under 3? Recently after watching the Social Dilemma I've installed a Chrome extension to block all of YouTube's recommendations. I feel like that is going to limit my rabbit hole adventures going forward — which has to be a good thing. 

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Michael (MW)

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