How We Internet: Finding the right news among too many options
Whenever I meet someone new, I ask them a personal question. I find a way to casually slip it in so they don’t think I’m rude or gauche for inquiring about something that involves daily, deliberate choice and is often done in private.
“How do you get your news?”
In the age of the internet, this is a nuanced question. The days of waiting for the newspaper thud outside the front door are over, and it’s no longer up to the editors of the New York Times to decide the lead story of the day. The process of getting news involves more choice than ever. We have access to unlimited options and sources to fill what seems like ever more limited time. This paradox of choice can be incredibly overwhelming if it’s not streamlined or ritualized in some way — hence why we form news reading habits.
A mentor of mine, Steve Rubel, who is the chief content strategist at Edelman PR, once told me that there are two kinds of news: news you find, and news that finds you. News you find is content you actively seek out: opening a news app to see the top headlines, flipping through a magazine you subscribe to, making your way over to CNN or NYTimes.com. News that finds you is anything inbound: news that comes to you via a social network, e-mail, or instant message.
I know how I get my news, and it’s structured and rarely changes (unless, of course, something like Twitter comes along and blows up my previous habits). But how does everyone else find their news? What does this mean for publishing companies and people like me who are looking for those readers who aren’t looking where I’m looking? How do I find you?
I think a lot about how we find news because my chief job at Vox Media is finding new audiences for our content. In our work to make our content available on all scalable audience platforms that support high quality publishing, I need to figure out where Vox Media content is and, more importantly, where we are not.
The answer to this question can solve one of the news industry’s biggest problems: acquiring new readers known as “unique visitors” (aka new visitors, the gold standard in web traffic, much like Nielsen numbers for TV ratings). I’ve taken a deep look at my own habits to try and figure out what problems I am creating and solving in my day-to-day life. One I’ve clearly identified is the death of the homepage in my routine. With a few exceptions, I am loyal to no homepages. I may love reading The New Republic, but I’m not going to its homepage. TNR, you’ve got to find me.
Here’s what my habits look like and how publishers can find me:
1. I read the New York Times in print before work every morning. I read things I wouldn't normally just by having the paper in my hands and scanning the headlines. I don't think I'd choose the same pieces online — not to mention, they'd probably have different headlines.
2. I open Pocket, the “read later” app on the subway, and read as much as I can on my commute. I've usually saved media and business articles there. I’ve also recently decided to try listening to Podcasts and have crowdsourced a bunch of different ones to try out.
3. When I get to work, I open seven tabs — my reading navigation paths — right away: Gmail, Facebook, Twitter (which often leads me to content found on Reddit), NYTimes.com, and Vox’s three sites The Verge, Polygon, and SB Nation.
4. In Gmail I have several filters for email newsletters. I subscribe to Politico “Playbook,” I Want Media, the IAB newsletter, some MediaPost content, PaidContent, Nieman Lab, MediaBistro, Jason Hirschhorn's Media e-mail, Cynopsis Media, Muck Rack, Quartz “Daily Brief,” The Daily Beast “Cheat Sheet,” The Slatest, Percolate, News.me, WWD, and a few others. I do a quick skim of some of them, though I usually spend the weekends catching up, hence why I tweet in big bulks.
5. On Facebook, I look to my News Feed for stories being shared by people I'm not close with. Studies show that your weakest ties have the potential to point you to news that you wouldn't have discovered yourself. This is part of the reason I really like having a big network on Facebook. I love seeing what other people are reading. (Though I recently noted that my Facebook feed was quickly turning into Instagram with nothing but pictures, and I saw that many people agreed.)
6. The TweetDeck application is also a big part of my news consumption. I used to do all of my work on the right-hand side of my screen and keep my “All Friends” timeline column visible on the left so I didn’t miss a single tweet. I've since changed that because I found watching it to be way too much “incoming.” It felt like I was tracking a stock ticker out of the corner of my eye. I decided to reassess how much I was actually getting out of watching conversations unfold, and I realized I would find (and add) more value if I checked in occasionally. Now I keep TweetDeck minimized in my Mac’s dock for most of the day and check it when I have a few free minutes or something I want to share.
7.I also subscribe to several magazines in print: New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, People, Us Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Fitness, and Health. (Everyone needs some balance!) I love getting these in print for the same reason I want a daily newspaper at my door: I discover things I never would online. (I highly recommend checking out this website where you can get magazine subscriptions — like all of the above — for $5.)
8. My final stop is at Vox Media's three sites to see what's happening in the worlds of tech/culture, gaming, and sports.
The rest of my day pretty much goes into autopilot as I work: I check Twitter, Facebook, and my email lists, but I never open another website and visit its homepage, which I think is crazy. If I miss something big, a friend usually flags it to me in gchat. The rest of my news for the day will find me.