David Beard is a scanner. Every day, the executive editor of PRI.org scans every story from his site, as well as stories from the many newsletters, Twitter feeds, and news sites he follows throughout the day. He then selects ones that he thinks will particularly resonate with the audience, adds a bite-sized fact or quote from each piece, and pushes them out on his own Twitter feed.
At various points in the day, you might see him tweeting about art, RPGs, jazz, public health, film, or gender politics – all while running a busy newsroom. What I like about David’s feed is that it’s authentic but not overwhelming. He’s there, for a time, and then he’s not there – because he’s doing other things at work. But the material he pumps out is consistently of the highest quality, and he always highlights what his colleagues are up to, sharing both what they do and how they do it. I look at his feed as a more curated, personalized version of a news homepage. In fact, I prefer it to a homepage, because I know David’s feed will explain why to read each piece – which is easier to parse than headlines and teasers.
I asked David, who recently joined PRI.org from The Washington Post, if he would answer some questions about how he manages his social accounts, in part because he’s one of the more active executive editors I’ve seen on social media. We talked about how he gets his news, how he manages his Twitter feeds and why he recently took up reading things offline.
MK: One of the things that I admire about you — and that I think you do so well — is constantly share stories by other writers in your newsroom. I noticed you did this at The Washington Post and now do it at PRI. You always pluck out really interesting facts from pieces and share them in such a way that I’m compelled to read them. How did you come up with the idea for doing that and how do you keep track of all of the articles published each day? It seems like you share everything.
DB: I have admired Ernie Smith’s Short Form Blog and his ability to find a key phrase or quote in a piece. I always think, “Could we just present this honestly for enough people so that more would be interested?” In the New York Times Innovations Report, I was the senior Post editor saying maybe only 3 percent of the people who would want to read/listen/see a story get the chance to read it, and if we could get that percentage to 4.5 percent, it’s worth the fight.
I have been blessed at the Post and at PRI. At the Post, there could be 500-700 articles a day published; I’d pick out 15 or so I thought were the most interesting and maybe the same amount from other things I had read. At PRI, we can grab the best from The World, The Takeaway, Studio 360 or Science Friday and build them.
I’m also always on the prowl for good images, video and audio, and am working hard to put the right short sound clip into a story, as well as the full audio. (i.e. this SoundCite of falling rain in this Malawi flood story.)
It’s always a goal of mine to share. Though the big focus is moving a 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. shop into a 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. shop.
MK: Do you schedule posts on social?
DB: I don’t schedule posts, though I should. I’m always terrified that it won’t feel authentic if something changes. Sometimes I’ll write them early, put them in my Notes and send out when I want, if everything else is ok. I just don’t want to disrespect the reader in any way.
On [PRI’s] official accounts, of course, we optimize on Social Flow and think about how long the publishing windows should be.
MK: On a typical workday, what tools are you using to keep abreast of the news, particularly across different time zones and in different markets?
DB: On a typical workday, I’m up around 5:30 a.m. I look over emailed headlines, Twitter, and the main sites I manage. On the way to work, I’m listening to podcasts. I also look at a variety of newsletters and what’s going on in our HipChat.
MK: How do you arrange your Twitter columns to keep track of everything? It seems like you follow everything.
DB: I frequently change up the Twitter lists I’m looking at. I have a list of people from the PRI universe, as well as Frontline, NOVA, PBS Newshour, and local WGBH people, too. I also have a list of interesting people from the Washington Post.
I have favorites like Heidi Moore or Tim Fernholz on economic stuff, favorites for environmental stuff, and favorites for LGBT, marijuana reform and other social/millennial issues. I also have favorites from my days covering Latin America and the Caribbean as well as interesting foreign commentators. I look for people who are a) smart, b) funny, c) accurate, and d) original.
MK: Does anything change in your workflow during breaking news?
DB: When breaking news happens, it’s triage. I’m finding lists of people to follow, seeing who’s doing things, reporting to find more, and finding a way to put some of it together or come up with a different angle. Some other stuff goes by the wayside, though I try not to stay exclusive and I try to maintain an emotional balance.
MK: What’s the one app or program that you couldn’t live without? Why?
I’m looking at one of four screens now. What’s open? Chartbeat, Tweetdeck, HipChat, the PRI homepage, Gmail, SocialFlow, a couple Word docs, The World’s rundown, and some MSN partnership stuff. And there’s Gchat and push alerts popping in the corner of my screen. It’s late in the day. I usually have more going on. The BBC is on another screen, and my email is below on connected laptop.
MK: Does your news diet change throughout the day?
DB: Early in the day, I get my news from Europe and Asia, then the States. As the day goes on, I like more interesting longread-y stuff, data visualizations and maps, and follow some personal interests like jazz or soccer.
MK: Outside of news, what do you look at for inspiration?
DB: I decided this year I would read more than Mark Zuckerberg, who recently announced he was reading a book every other week. Last night, I read half of a delightful book call My Salinger Year, about a young woman being poor in NYC in the mid-90s. In last few weeks, I’ve read A Spy Among Friends, the John Cleese autobiography, Ethan Zuckerman’s Rewire, and Gabriella Coleman’s book on Anonymous. On the last two Sundays, I’ve even read a few articles in the Sunday New York Times’ paper, even though I read a lot online. I recently got a lot out of an Ed Brooke obituary, reading it the old-fashioned way on a Sunday morning.
Previously from Melody: WNYC is helping people learn to be bored again
Previously from David Beard: 8 ways to attract more Twitter followers