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In Praise of Why Is This Interesting?'s Monday Media Diet 4 min read

In Praise of Why Is This Interesting?'s Monday Media Diet

By Cary Littlejohn

I love the newsletter from the guys at Why Is This Interesting? The posts live up to the newsletter’s name, often requiring the authors to describe and imbue the interestingness to the topic in the first place and then add some context. Sometimes the topics are inherently interesting, and they dive deeper on why that might be the case.

But it’s that first version that I love so much. It represents curation and building trust with readers. It’s what I want my blog and my newsletter to be, which is essentially to say “Just trust me.” And for people to trust, one needs to deliver. All posts won’t always deliver, but hopefully the percentage is high enough to justify people coming back for more.

I admittedly have read less and less of WITI lately because they made the very logical choice to go to a subscription model instead of leaving their content free of charge.

But one piece I still do read quite a lot is itsMonday edition which they call the Monday Media Diet. It was always my favorite edition of the week, so it’s my sheer dumb luck that they keep this one in front of the paywall.

The concept is simple and pretty self-explanatory: They interview someone to ask how that person engages with media. They ask a series of standardized questions in every interview:

  • Tell us about yourself.
  • Describe your media diet.
  • What’s the last great book you read?
  • What are you reading now?
  • What’s your strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?
  • Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?
  • What’s the best non-famous you love on your phone?
  • Plane or train?
  • What’s one place everyone should visit?
  • Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into.

I love this edition the most because 1) I’m always on the lookout for new places to visit on the internet or new publications to which I can subscribe and 2) I just love the concept. It’s the same reason that I’m interested in the home row on people’s iPhones: I know what I have down there and in what order (L to R: Phone, Mail, Safari, Messages) and it makes perfect sense to me and for me. But I’ve seen people, especially those much younger, with social media apps like Instagram or TikTok on the home row. I’ve seen people use fewer than the allotted four icons; some use three, and once I even saw a person who just had one (and it wasn’t even Phone; it was Messages). None of this is right or wrong, but it fascinates me how people use the very same device that I do, what they prioritize, and if given the chance, I’d love to ask people why they do. Not in a judgmental way, but I’m just interested in the thought process that goes into the selection, whether it was impulse or strongly considered, and what they do in their days that necessitate certain apps.

Take that mundane, everyday interest and actually apply it to something I’m deeply passionate about (media), and you can see why I love hearing the responses. I rarely, if ever, know the person they’re interviewing, so I love the “Tell us about yourself” question, especially if I find out they’re a journalist/media type.

The media diet is where I get a lot of new ideas for sites to visit and subscriptions to pursue. I go through a lot of them in order to populate my newsletter (here’s to making a strong comeback in 2023!), and I never like the idea of them growing stale or overused.

Here’s my sample response to that question, in case the WITI guys ever were to ask:

I’m more reliant on Twitter than I care to admit when it comes to news. I only say that now that the site seems even more like a blazing hellscape than it used to. I rarely use the trending topics to find out the news; I follow so many journalist types that I see big news pretty quickly.

When it comes newspapers, I turn primarily to the New York Times. Its widget is on my phone’s main screen, which updates headlines throughout the day. I also subscribe to The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. For local news relevant to where I live, I read the Columbia Missourian, produced by the Missouri School of Journalism and for which I wrote years ago. I also keep up with my friends back in Gillette, Wyoming, by reading the Gillette News Record online.

My true love, though, is magazines. I subscribe to many in print: The Atlantic, The New Yorker, WIRED, Texas Monthly, Harper’s, New York Review of Books, Esquire, Vanity Fair, and the beautiful tennis quarterly Racquet Magazine.

Online, I subscribe to Slate, New York Magazine, Graydon Carter’s Airmail, The Browser, and countless newsletters, from Substacks and beyond.

Podcasts are a huge part of my days, from talky conversation shows about movies and TV to longform storytelling to daily news updates. NPR’s Up First and The Daily from the New York Times are how I start my day. I also love The Gist as a sort of bulldog podcast edition for the day. ESPN Daily and Fresh Air are the other daily podcasts I listen to, but I have to be interested in the topic to click.

I’m a big fan of podcasts from the Ringer, namely The Big Picture for film, The Watch for TV shows, and The Press Box for media coverage.

Podcasts-as-journalism are a big reason I went back to graduate school in the first place, so there are tons here: NPR’s Planet Money, Longform, On the Media, Slate’s Political Gabfest, Plain English with Derek Thompson, The New Yorker Radio Hour, and more round out this category.

NB: These links are all to PocketCasts, which would be my answer to my favorite non-famous app on my phone. A truly wonderful podcast app (although it’s search function admittedly could use some work.)

Today, in the model of year-end lists and round-ups, WITI published a MMD meta-analysis, where they broke out some of the answers from the interviewees and looked at what they had in common.

It is a veritable one-stop shop for a well-cultured, intellectually stimulating 2023. There’s something for everybody. For those of you with New Year’s resolutions to read more or be more well-informed about the world around you, or for those of you who eschew resolutions and just want something good to read and listen to in the coming year, this list (and WITI itself) is a great place to start.