08 March, 2015

On Having an Information Diet

For three years and counting, I put myself on what Clay Johnson coins as an information diet. I bought his book bearing the namesake a few months after it came out, but I let it collect pixelated dust between my day-job with the community college wilderness years coming to a close. Then, what got me thinking about this whole info-cutting business?

Before then, I was obsessed with world news from the BBC to Al Jazeera English and NHK World. That and in 2010 I gave US national media a shot through the Huffington Post's media section with all the he-said she-said soundbites. That last experience was rather unnerving courtesy of my first  introduction to the craft through shortwave broadcasts of NHK World that turned into visiting the BBC website daily. From teen to early young-adult, I was naive about journalism and what the Internet could do.

Fast-forward to February 2012 where a friend of mine reminded me about national media and how they covered politics. I read through Dan Gillmor's Mediactive months prior which got me thinking about managing my own news consumption. That and considering additional sources beyond the established press. More on that in a few.

Clay Johnson's The Information Diet reminded of Gillmor's book regarding how one can organize through information both sensational and informative alongside other techniques. Whereas Gillmor calls for the user to not only embrace active media consumption, but to also maintain an internet presence, Johnson focuses more on the former noticing the smaller details including filter failure and brand loyalty along how to make one's information diet work effectively though mastering consumption techniques that allude to nutrition, personal fitness, and psychological experiments.

I already utilize some of the methods in my own diet, even before I read Johnson's book combined with Gillmor's suggestions. When it comes to recognized media outlets, I use both local and international sources alongside non-profit organizations including ProPublica, Global Voices, and the Sunlight Foundation without the need to tune into the cable news landscape. Excluding social media feeds, I bookmarked seven international sources along with my region's local paper, and three alternative publications to distill and figure out the stories I find interesting and ultimately newsworthy.   

Which leads me back to the additional sources idea, going beyond the non-profits I previously mentioned. One of my favorite parts in Mediactive is when Dan Gillmor asks readers, "What is journalism?" This question, and the chapter in question shows how the idea evolves to include citizen journalists, bloggers, and organizations which he says perform "journalistic acts". I seriously recommend going through that hyperlink, but long story short, the idea encompasses the mentioned organizations and more. Personally this includes blogs such as Boing Boing, Popehat, Feeling Listless, and other sites on my blogroll that are part-humor and part-opinion, but also link to articles elsewhere.

That, and instead of just going through my bookmarks and scrolling my news feeds, I make it a habit to go through my Feedly where I can subscribe to feeds relevant to my interests a la the now-defunct Google Reader.

I could go on, but I'll just say that any exposure to political partisan material I limit to Jacobin Magazine and any of the mentioned publications or blogs. Because of this ongoing diet, I have a more optimistic and somewhat detached view on current events. In other words, I combined Johnson's advice with Gillmor's suggestion towards a "slower news culture" which I also suggest going through. All this information consumption takes place within an hour to two based on whether or not I'm working or writing. Sometimes, I bookmark an article for later reading. Sometimes, not.

So would I recommend reading through Clay Johnson's Information Diet? I say yes, but also read through Mediactive to get a bigger picture of the evolving media landscape to keep the data-consuming regiment fresh.       

Disclosure: I wrote a review on Mediactive for the student-run publication, Campus Lantern, back in 2012.

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