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By Miles Kenyon
A misinformed journalist is a dangerous thing. It’s for this reason that the best journalists are also avid consumers of news. But given the never-ending news cycle and constant deadlines, finding time to spread out the morning paper might be a luxury few can afford.
So how do journalists, especially those starting their careers, find the time to stay informed? We asked some of the country’s top reporters, editors and producers to share their tips and techniques for how they keep on top of all the news that’s fit to read. These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity
Karyn Pugliese: Executive Director of News and Current Affairs, APTN
Mostly I live with my earbuds in. Being dyslexic I am a slow reader and so I prefer broadcast media, but I consume a bit of everything as I go through the day. During my morning coffee, I flip on the television, watch the headlines on NewsNet, CNN and BBC. Then I go out for an hour-long run and I’ll listen to podcasts, like the previous night’s CBC Power and Politics.
Before I arrive at work I grab a coffee and I’ll scan the Metro for local news while I am in line. If I want to know more about any story that I picked up on the morning, I’ll do a Google search. I like to read blogs as well.
I tend to use Twitter only for breaking news—when I am looking for the blow-by-blow on an event.
When I was reporting I also used Twitter and Facebook to find sources or stories but, now that I am a desk jockey, that is no longer my role.
Our newsroom also loves to share stories from other media by email, and share our thoughts—even if those stories are not subjects our newsroom covers. It might be industry news, U.S. politics or even funny human interest pieces.
We’re consuming way more media now than ever in the history of mankind. I think some young reporters feel anxious about work and want to be prepared to take any job on any beat and try to keep up with everything just in case the next job around the corner needs special knowledge. But we’re not looking for expertise when we’re hiring younger reporters. We’re looking for people who will show up on time, put in an honest day’s work, and who have that spark of enthusiasm that tells us they are going to love the job.
Subject expertise comes on the job. It takes time and a good employer will help you develop throughout your career. Journalism is life-long learning.
So these are my tips:
- Multitask, but do it safely—listening to radio news while cooking dinner is good, flipping through tweets as your driving is obviously bad (yet I keep seeing people do it).
- You don’t need to keep on top of everything. In fact you should tune out for a few hours a day. Especially if you’re covering stories that are emotionally tough.
- Keep on top of what you need to know for your job, and those things that you are passionately interested in. If you’re lucky, and on the right career path, you’ll find those two categories—what your need for work and your passion—overlapping.
Denise Balkissoon: Columnist and Editor, The Globe and Mail Life section; Editor-in-Chief and founder, The Ethnic Aisle
Well, my first stop is the morning all-editorial email at the Globe, setting up our priorities of the day. From there I note which Globe stories I want to read for sure, which I do when I get to work (because I cycle; if it's a transit day, then I read news while commuting). Then I browse our site: news, opinion, Toronto and Life, before hopping around a bit.
I also look at Twitter first thing every morning, to see what people are talking about. If there's something that catches my attention, I either go to the feed of a reporter who I know is an expert or I search it on Twitter and Google.
I browse the Star and New York Times homepages almost daily. But really Twitter is my home base. I follow the basic big publications, like the Washington Post, the Guardian, etc. I also follow international reporters I find interesting, like Jenan Moussa in the Middle East/Syria, Melissa Chan for China news and the Globe's foreign reporters.
I'm never surprised when I'm interested in something that mainstream publications, including the Globe, aren't as interested in. I follow a lot of people with particular interests in feminism, anti-racism, etc. In my Twitter feed, the shooting death of Colten Boushie in Saskatchewan is a huge deal, but it's not really so far in most Canadian media (other than the CBC, which has a specific Aboriginal reporting team). So again, I follow specialized publications—The Establishment is a great American feminist digital magazine. Just because something isn't BIG news doesn't mean it isn't news, and if it's important to me, I follow it.
Everyone, but especially young journalists, needs to fact check. Social media is terrible for rumours and for circulating old news without updates. If you see something fiery, do a Google search. Trace it back to a source you trust, and make sure you know the whole picture. Be careful with drama and retweets.
Mainly, it's better not to know than to know the wrong thing.
Ken MacIntosh: Executive Producer News and Current Affairs for Nova Scotia, CBC
It's part of my role as Executive Producer News and Current Affairs for Nova Scotia to consume as much of the content we produce as possible. So the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check my email for anything urgent and then check the CBC news app on my phone. I'm doing this as I chase my two-year old around, make coffee, shave, etc.
I generally read our most important stories all the way through (assuming I haven't read them before they were published). If there is a breaking news story of some importance locally I will also read those full stories in case I have to get involved in planning coverage before I arrive at work.
I usually catch our national radio news as I drive to work which gets me caught up a bit more on the national and international picture. When I get to work I grab a copy of the Globe and Mail and following the advice of the first assignment producer I ever worked for—I read the business section first.
In terms of cutting through the noise, I do my best to avoid reading multiple "hot takes" on whatever stories have captured the industry’s attention. There is just so much analysis out there these days. Much of it is engaging but doesn't necessarily shed new light on a subject so I try to resist it in favour of more informative material.
I would encourage younger journalists to seek out a variety of new sources, both traditional and nontraditional, as a way to broaden their knowledge of what's happening and how different agencies cover it. I would say be careful of only reading about the topics you are most keenly interested in and if you can't resist all the "hot takes" at least seek out a variety of perspectives in the analysis.
Matthew DiMera, Managing Editor (Toronto and Ottawa), Daily Xtra
I consume news consistently throughout my workday. In the morning I’ll flip through the news and city sections of the Toronto Star’s tablet app to see if I missed any local and Canadian news from the prior day. But, often the stories that are of most interest to me, I’ve already read online.
I follow a lot of media outlets on Facebook — local, national, international and LGBT-specific. I also have a lot of journalists and news people in my social media feeds, so I’m more likely to see breaking news as it happens. I work on a specific beat, so Google alerts are particularly relevant to me: I use alerts heavily for key search terms (I have about 30 active alerts; some permanent, others that I use temporarily when a specific issue arises).
I also subscribe to a lot of newsletters: Vox Sentences for in-depth coverage on important or breaking news; a lot of LGBT-focused newsletters to see what stories and issues other people are working on; and 12:36 for Toronto-centric stories.
I’m conscious of my time so I don’t feel obliged to read everything. I may just read the headline or social media post, or the first few paragraphs. If it’s something I don’t know enough about, I may read the whole story.
Don’t feel like you need to read every story from every outlet; there’s so much duplication. Find a good mix of news sources that you trust and enjoy to follow on social media. Keep your routine manageable so it’s something you can enjoy and not something you feel forced to keep up with. Set some time aside each day to get up to speed. Follow other journalists and active social media users whose interests and beats align with yours. Depend on them to help curate your feeds so you don’t miss relevant stories.
Randi Beers, Assignment Editor, Yellowknifer newspaper
I consume the news mainly through social media. I use Twitter to give me an overview of what's happening. If there is a particular topic or issue that I want to know more about, I will utilize more social media tools. I'll do a Twitter search for more people doing the story. I'll look up the people behind the bylines and see if they are chatting about their story on Twitter. I'll do a search for the topic and see who is pontificating on it. Every once in awhile, if the topic is big enough, I’ll go on Reddit and see if there is anybody who has interesting things to say in the comments section about whatever news issue I'm interested in.
Everybody in the north uses Facebook, and back when I was responsible for NWT News/North, the paper that covers all 33 communities here, I pretty much had no choice but to rely on Facebook connections to tell me what's going on in these communities.
Use your Twitter not necessarily for tweeting, but for scanning. Be methodical about who you follow—there are reporters out there who are really good about tweeting about what they are working on, tweeting about the subjects they are experts on. This has been very useful for me, particularly for the American election.
Also, learn to research. If there is something going on— I'll use the American election again because it's so broad— do keyword searches, find reporters who are tweeting eyewitness accounts of things, find interesting discussions to follow, that sort of thing.
Lastly, always be critical of what you read. I consider the publication, the byline, the voices used in the story, what those voices are actually quoted saying versus what has been paraphrased, how much background information there is, etc. If information has been attributed to an anonymous source, make note of that. Ask yourself whether the story still stands with the anonymous source. These are essential things people need to think about when consuming news.
Miles Kenyon is a freelance journalist based in Toronto who has had bylines in The Toronto Star, CBC, Daily Xtra, NOW and This Magazine. He primarily focuses on LGBTQ politics, Indigenous issues and social justice concerns.