A Peek Inside Jesse Thorn's Digital Life

Mar 19, 2014


Credit Gordon de los Santos
People involved in public media share how they wade through the digital news deluge. This month we spoke with Jesse Thorn, host and creator of the NPR distributed radio show/podcast Bullseye. He also owns the podcast network Maximum Fun and runs the menswear blog Put This On. In between his many duties, he shared how he traverses the digital world.

Three daily must-reads
I don't have a lot of daily must-reads. I think keeping abreast of things on a daily timescale is kind of a waste. I'm happy to let things sort themselves out a little, then learn about them. I know I'm supposed to be writing a news how-to, but there's a part of me that thinks news (relative to what people call features or analysis) is for chumps.

That said...

I probably read the New Yorker daily. It's one of the few things my divorced parents agreed on when I was a kid (the others being James Brown and the movie A Thousand Clowns). Both of them always had it laying around the house, so I've been reading it since forever. I'll pretty much read anything in The New Yorker, and that's not true of pretty much any other source of any type of media. My favorite is Kelefa Sanneh, who I've been admiring since he used to write about pop music in the New York Times. One of the only people who writes about hip-hop for a general audience in a way that's not insulting to hip-hop.

Speaking of which: The New York Times is where I go when I'm bored on my computer. I like the Arts section, especially Jason Zinoman's writing about comedy. The Style section makes me want to shoot myself in the face. That's where I go to learn about hot Brooklyn trends from six years ago. 

And I read The AV Club for my entertainment reviews and whatnot, but a lot of their staff recently left to start a new project called The Dissolve for Pitchfork, so I don't feel as comfortable with a lot of the reviewers' perspectives. I'd been reading the AV Club for so long that I felt like I knew where everyone was coming from and now it's all new faces and voices. But they're still the print outlet that best reflects our POV at Bullseye.

And then I follow a lot of menswear stuff for my menswear blog Put This On. I really like Die, Workwear!, and both A Suitable Wardrobe and An Affordable Wardrobe (the latter of which is sort of a reposte to the former). And I love the sports uniform blog Uniwatch. Which is just one huge blog post every day about sports uniforms and is so, so awesome.

Three podcasts you listen to regularly/just discovered?
I make a little tour of MaximumFun.org podcasts every month or so, listening to an episode or two of each. I love them all equally, but I think public radio people might enjoy The Goosedown, which is a comedy show hosted by two great comics out of LA, Jasper Redd and Kim Clark, Song Exploder, where a musician named Hrishi Hirway interviews artists about a single song, then cuts the interview into the stem tracks of the song, and Sawbones, which is a journey through the craziest parts of the history of medicine.

And in terms of non-MaxFun shows... Answer Me This is a great Q&A podcast from England. It's got both advice and factual questions, and it's really charming and very funny. I listen to On the Media and their sub-show TLDR every week, and it's my favorite thing and what I wish all of public radio was more like. And my friend Roman's show 99% Invisible, about design and architecture, is about to go weekly, and I've been listening since week one. I love the intersection of the practical and the aesthetic, and Roman's a really gifted producer.

Three people you follow (online) regularly

Let's say... Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose writing about culture I love on The Atlantic. Jay Smooth, who does amazing op-ed videos. And this one's cheating, but The Internets Celebrities, who make hilarious minidocs about life in New York, with a social commentary edge to them.

Three accounts you'd pay to follow on Twitter
I don't know why anyone uses Twitter for anything other than bringing together a thousand million amazing jokes. So my favorite tweeters (this changes all the time, don't hold me to it) are Dan Kennedy, who's a Moth guy and writer whose tweets are really hilarious and sad, about how all his dreams are falling apart... Sarah Thyre, who's an amazing improviser and actress and writer whose tweets are generally about her lady parts... and Scott Simpson, who's a sort of semi-suburban sophisticate tech dad archetype deconstructor.

Three guilty pleasures online
I don't really do guilty pleasures. I'm pretty glad about my pleasures, for one thing, and entertainment and comedy and stuff are my business. I guess the closest would be watching Giants games on mlb.tv when I should be working? But I don't feel guilty about it. Work's for jerks, that's my motto.

First thing you check in the morning
This is boring, but my email. I probably load my Twitter replies while my email's loading. It's a pretty sad scene.

Last thing you check at night
My email, again. I get a lot of email.

Favorite news consumption time saver
Besides "not worrying about the news so much," it's probably my RSS reader, The Old Reader. The death of Google Reader and the fading of RSS generally is a real disappointment to me.

Go-to local news source
Honestly, local news isn't my thing. As a native San Franciscan, I actively dislike the local sports teams here in LA, and it's such a huge region that most "local" news feels like it's a thousand miles away. I generally think localism is overrated, outside of earthquakes and elections and a few other exceptions. Few of my interests are geographically driven, and those that are aren't well-represented in media.

Your most used mobile reporting tool or app
I'm not a reporter, but when I travel for shows and so forth, I bring along a Lenovo ultrabook. For live shows, we usually bring an Edirol recorder for the mics and an old Zoom that I bought on Craigslist many years ago to use for audience recording.

Words of wisdom for your fellow shows/stations as they go forward with their digital efforts
Just dive in and try stuff and play around and do what seems interesting and fun. And remember that your goal isn't to extend your radio and TV audience, it's to serve people online. 

Three people whose digital lives you would like to learn about
I just read a Roger Angell piece where he was talking about Facebook. He's 93, would love to hear what he's up to. And for the other end of the spectrum, there's a great comic here in LA named Shelby Fero who just turned 20. Would love to hear how she does it. And for a third person... how about a tech person? Anil Dash.