I remember an elevator ride with Carl Lavin, the lead editor of CNN.com, while I worked as an editor at TheStreet, when I asked him what he read; he looked at me with a quizzical expression that took me by surprise, as if he hadn't thought about the question in a long time.
"I read what comes across my desk," he said, "what friends send me or what makes its way into my Twitter feed, what people are talking about."
It was such a simple solution to the problem of information overload that so many of us suffer from, but as I have tried to follow that advice I have found that's it much easier said than done.
My media diet starts every day with the AP and Twitter apps on my iPhone, to see what is driving the conversation around the news, and quickly moves to the one piece of essential reading that Lavin did identify: Mike Allen's Playbook. The over-caffeinated genius behind Politico sends his daily digest of what is driving the day in Washngton to any Inbox that asks for it, and without fail I will see those stories In the major media by the afternoon.
In addition to Playbook, I rely on newsletters to catch up on anything I may have missed from the day before, including The Slatest from Slate, The New York Times's New York Today and the Muck Rack Daily for social media news.
I get my news about the media industry through daily newsletters from MediaBistro and IWantMedia at some point in the morning, and will read anything by the New York Times' David Carr, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd and Tom Friedman thanks to alerts set up on nytimes.com.
Beyond that, I read what crosses my desk and what makes its way into my Twitter feed. I don't ever watch TV news, though I will occasionally catch an episode of the Daily Show or Colbert Report, and I rarely listen to the radio other than maybe 15 min to get the basics on my way to the office on Long Island. I simply can't stand the commercials.
Aside from getting caught up on the news of the day, I go out of my way to read some long-form journalism and magazine features, so my media consumption involves some "lean back" time as well.
I subscribe to Bloomberg Businessweek (brilliant features) and The Economist (essential for world and finance news), which I read throughout the week, and I will spend weekends on Vanity Fair, Wired, The New Yorker and the occasional Fast Company magazine. I read these almost exclusively on my iPad.
If I'm our running or riding my bike, I'm usually listening to a recent podcast from Brian Lehrer, Planet Money, the Moth or This American Life, all essential listening.
And somewhere in all of this I manage to read actual books (sometimes as audiobooks) to get immersed in narratives that take longer than a few minutes to read. It's amazing what a good feeling it is to take several days or weeks to read something.
If all of this sounds overwhelming, that's because it is. Staying informed is an exercise in triage and skimming. If a piece isn't written well, I move onto the next one. If the writing is good though, I read to the end.
Fundamentally, it all comes down to what Lavin told me: the best way to be informed is to read what comes to you. It's filtered by your network, curated by the people you know, trust and are in some way connected to. After that it's about taking pleasure in learning new things.
Otherwise what's the point of any of it?