Friday, September 08, 2006

Revisiting the periodicals I read

It may be time for me to revisit my reading lists for periodicals. I have read in a few places the predictions that print newspapers and magazines are headed for extinction. However, this recent post asking "are newspapers and magazines dying?" by Don Dodge made me sit back a moment and look at my reading habits. I am referring here to the newspapers and magazines; I still read a good share of books.

When it comes to news, I get them online. I may glance at a local television cast in the morning before I go to work, but I do it for two things: weather (to reaffirm it will be hot as hell as usual in Houston) and traffic (to know how many wrecks, blockages, overturned trailers and other events are going on at the time that may delay my commute). Once I get that, I switch to CNN for the rest of my breakfast. For local news overall, I have found that using My Yahoo! works well. They just added more local Houston feeds, which I think are still on beta, but I get some decent coverage of the local news on that as it includes the Houston Chronicle, some of the media stations, and some of the other local newspapers. The only real reason I use Yahoo's custom page is longevity. I've had it long before Bloglines came around. I also look at various news sources the same way: Reuters, AP, The Christian Science Monitor, BBC, Salon, and others. These days, the only way I would read a print newspaper is if I lost my online and television access. I do look at magazines now and then. By the way, I scan a lot, but I do manage to stay informed.

When I started working as a professional librarian, I made myself a reading list (see my links above) for periodicals that I wanted to read or at least keep up with. I made a decent effort to read various publications, but over time I found that I was reading less of the items on the list. It turns out that a great bulk of my periodical reading is now done electronically. I read items from Table of Contents (TOC) alerts and on a feed reader. If a magazine lacks an rss feed these days, odds are good that I will not read it. However, I am not reading less. In fact, I am reading more as a whole, just differently.

Blogs have become a significant reading and information source for me. I have discovered that if something is important, the odds are good that some bloggers will pick it up. Mother Jones, to pick an example, had a good article on X topic? Someone will mention it. If it sounds interesting, I go find it. A lot of filtering gets done by bloggers. This does mean that one has to fine tune their aggregator in order to get a good set of informative and interesting feeds. This also includes removing things from the aggregator that you may have added, but that you no longer read. Librarians call that weeding.

So, allow me to briefly share what has worked for me:
  • My Yahoo!: I've had this since who knows when. On it I have major news sources in topics like news, business and technology, and entertainment. In essence, this serves as my virtual newspaper. I usually give it a quick scan and focus on anything interesting. I combine informative, interesting, and amusing here.
  • Bloglines: This is where I read blogs. To keep things neat, I don't use it for anything not a blog for the most part, and I include big and small bloggers. I will admit I favor smaller blogging voices over the big A-listers, who after a while seem more like echo chambers. I look at this every day, and it is part of my current awareness strategy. A big reason that I have little patience for CNN and most news programs on television is that by the time they get a story, very often I saw it on a blog or online first.
  • TOC Alerts for academic journals: I am referring here to LIS journals as well as journals in my subject areas and area of specialization. This is probably one of the best things to happen for current awareness. As I review my reading lists, I find that I am reading most of the academic stuff I set out to read because I am alerted to it on my e-mail. My next step will probably be modifying alerts from e-mail to putting the feeds in an aggregator for those journals that provide feeds. We'll see how it goes.
And something that has not been working for me:
  • Newsgator: This I just don't use as much. Now and then I like to experiment with other 2.0 online tools, and I opened this account to try it out. I use it mostly for some news feeds. I have in it things like AlterNet and some Spanish language feeds. For the most part, no blogs here. I scan this maybe once every week or less. A big reason for this is that I find their interface slow and clunky. When you click on a feed title, you still have to click on another link to mark them as read, and then it tends to be slow to do the marking. I find Bloglines more user-friendly. Now, I do like the idea of separating publications (newspapers, magazines, etc.) from blogs (I think here I mean more non-professional or less corporate?). The scheme makes sense to me. I am thinking maybe I need to move the stuff in here to MyYahoo! if possible, or I could try out a different reader, which would give me an excuse to experiment further with something else. Another little annoyance I found with Newsgator is that it can time you out for inactivity. While I am fine of the security rationale, it can be annoying if I open a link to a post, go over to the post's site to read it, then get back the feed reader only to find it has timed me out, and I have to log in again. If it is a long post I am reading, this would not be uncommon for me.
  • Remembering to check the print publications when they come out. With my busy schedule, especially during the hectic parts of an academic year, remembering that Harper's or Atlantic came out is less of a priority for me. For magazines like those two, bloggers again come through for me by pointing out stories I may want to see. While I still like the serendipity of picking up a magazine and finding something interesting, letting the aggregator to some of the work makes my life a little easier. I don't feel like I am missing much.
On other thoughts, I don't have any personal periodical subscriptions at home. The only things that I get are due to organization memberships like the American Library Association (ALA), and even those I am debating whether to keep them or not. Part of the debate is that I pick up a lot of the stuff ALA puts out via libloggers. The newfangled newsletter that ALA spams on my inbox as a "membership perquisite" is pretty much useless and old news by the time it arrives. I usually delete it upon arrival. I ought to see if I can just unsubscribe from the thing. Same goes for American Libraries magazine, which is notorious for arriving very late in my home. I do like the journals from ALA divisions like RUSA and ACRL, though I personally find more substance in articles from publications like The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Reference Services Review (RSR), and Library Trends among others. Any other readers note these are not ALA publications? We could debate the merits of certain journals, but that would be a separate post. By the way, I read those journals via TOC alerts.

I guess that my reading patterns have changed. What I find fascinating is that the change has been gradual. I just adjust based on what I find useful and/or interesting. I went on and started reviewing my lists to see what can be read online or put in the aggregator. For the personal list, I found a few. For the academic items, I will get to those later. In the meantime, I will keep on reading, writing, and learning.

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