Meet Mary Duffy. Mary is one of the most prolific readers I know. She attended a college that’s based around reading, which means she’s read the classics, but she’s also well-versed in modern fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Mary is a freelance grant writer, editor, genealogical researcher and copywriter, has a great record collection, and has lived all over the world. She is currently working on a book about her family and Jewish refugees during the Second World War. When I met her, Mary was living above a charming coffee shop and below a roof with sweeping views of the entire city of Philadelphia. She’s a great cook, a great listener, and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.
I was hoping Mary would answer how she gets her news because she seems to read everything. Below are her answers. If you’d like to be interviewed, you don’t live in DC or NY, and you don’t work in news, let me know. And if you want to read the rest of this series, click here.
1. How do you get your news?
Primarily I get my news on Twitter, although I don’t follow any news orgs/publications on Twitter. (Do I? Checking. No. I follow a few literary websites and for publications I follow The Paris Review. I do follow @Philebrity, a website which reports on local Philadelphia stories of interest, not exactly breaking news.) So I get my news from other people on Twitter–people retweeting news into my feed or basically saying “read this story.” We joke that Twitter is only people who work in the media, but I’m fortunate that the people who are writing and reporting the stories I care about are on Twitter and that the people I follow are going to draw my attention to what I should be aware of. I myself don’t tend to tweet out links that often, so I rely on my friends or journalists who do–Lydia Polgreen, Matt Pearce, Tara Murtha, and The Shrillest are some that come to mind right away as people who often are feeding me the news.
For TV, I usually put the NBC Nightly News on in the background while I’m cooking dinner. And that show amounts to a soft rehash of the real story which I’ve already read on the NYT or elsewhere through Twitter that day, plus then the last story of the night which is always puppies or disabled veterans or philanthropy. If I’m in the car at the right moment, All Things Considered and Marketplace on NPR, which does the kind of reporting I like also. I’m more delighted than I should be that the wonderful Lizzie O’Leary from Marketplace follows me on twitter.
**2. Please send me a gif or video that captures your attention span **
Can I have two? I’m schizophrenic in that sometimes I’m very distractible and sometimes I have laserlike focus.
When I’m on the internet, I’m the girl trying to read in this situation.
But really I tend to be like this: in my spare time I do genealogical research, I read 300 page novels in one sitting, and I write, so it requires a lot of focus.
3. How do you take your coffee?
Black with a teaspoon of sugar.
4. Who’s doing it right in news?
That’s a really hard question. I honestly have a ton of respect for Gawker, who has broken some great stories and I suspect will be breaking more. They aren’t really a traditional news outlet, but I want news or let’s say reportage that is intelligent. I seek out particular outlets in this way. Look at what Adam Weinstein is doing here. Look at what RH Reality Check is doing. Look at SCOTUSblog.com. I get particular kinds of news from particular outlets that are doing their one specific thing very, very well. Thanks to Matt Pearce, lately I’ve been reading the LA Times more than the NYT for just general news. Likewise, the Washington Post has been stepping up their game significantly, but they’re a bit uneven.
5. What’s the first news event that you remember?
I remember being 5 or so, living in Poland and watching CNN, which we got via satellite, by myself and seeing a report on the death of Abbie Hoffman. I may have constructed that memory, though. I read a book about Hoffman when I was a teenager and while reading it I thought, “wait, I feel like I remember being a kid, not knowing who this guy was but I saw them talking about his suicide.” So I don’t know if it happened or if I retrospectively invented that memory. For sure the first news event I recall was a year later, in 1990, when the Berlin Wall was coming down, I remember watching footage of it and wondering if I’d see my dad, because he was in Berlin and was chipping away at the Wall for souvenirs and just seeing it all firsthand because he could. It was odd to see a place I knew well on the TV.
6. What was the best thing that happened to you this week?
Thursday I got a quick turnaround freelance grantwriting gig out of the blue, which is nice. (Hit me up for general copywriting, editing, and grants or fundraising stuff!)
7. What do you absolutely hate about the news?
I hate “explainer” journalism and I’m bored by the Slate Gladwell-esque “you think this, but it’s really this!” stuff, and I hate soft news on the TV. I’m really disgusted by the state of TV news–I remember a time when CNN was all international embedded reporters with what they called “The Hollywood Minute” for entertainment news. Now look at that channel, 25 years later, the formula is reversed. Sometimes I stream France 24 news on my laptop, which will give you decent international coverage and footage that shows the dead bodies in war zones, which we’re too puritanical to show on TV in America. War tends to mean dead people and I think we shouldn’t shy from showing that. In a way, that kind of reporting is more respectful of reality. I think American TV journalists would do well to look at what say, Frontline or 60 Minutes reports on and make our evening news a series of shorter reported but harder hitting stories. I can’t believe the pablum the major networks feed the public. We’re in trouble: we have serious problems from the climate to wealth inequality and on down, so let’s focus on those and less on neato science reportage, puppies, and altruism. (Those are all things I like, and like a lot, but I don’t want them on the evening news.)
**8. If you were a news outlet, which would you be and why? **
I’d be CNN circa 1989, which is what all my first memories of TV news were like. The anchors were presumably not just pretty faces, reporters were all around the globe, constantly, the news told you what was really going on in the world, and you just had the Hollywood Minute and Style with Elsa Klensch a couple times a week that showed you the entertainment and high fashion world. There weren’t sixteen different graphics flying around the screen. Now it’s just theater, news as entertainment. Watch half an hour of CNN and I defy you to learn something. I’d be 1989 CNN because I’m basically a serious person, but also something of an outsider, and an original, which CNN was when Ted Turner started it. It was the first 24 hour news and only-news network at the time.