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How to Build the Perfect Reading List in 3 Steps

Barry Ritholtz is a Bloomberg View columnist. He founded Ritholtz Wealth Management and was chief executive and director of equity research at FusionIQ, a quantitative research firm. He blogs at the Big Picture and is the author of “Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy.”
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“Wherever do you find those wonderful reads each day?”

Every now and again, a variation of the above question comes in from readers. Since it’s a summer Friday -- and really, it’s not like anything else is going on in the world -- I shall give the people what they want.

I’ve been doing a daily reading list for more than 20 years, since I started as a trader way back in the mid-’90s. It eventually evolved to become seven days a week on my blog.

Some of you may be wondering, “How difficult can pulling a dozen headlines off a feeder be?” Turns out, it is harder to do and takes longer than it might seem.

Here are the rules that guide my hand each day:

Curate viciously.

There is an embarrassment of riches in terms of online content. This creates an “abundance” challenge. 

My lists are defined as much by what is included as excluded. What you choose to omit is crucial to making any list special. In the early days, I tried inclusivity, and the list got longer and longer. I gave up that pointless exercise years ago, when Google News made it wholly unnecessary.

I rarely use anything from the front pages of major newspapers or news sites, on the assumption that many readers have seen it already. Overly popular links on Twitter are also tossed. Most read, most popular, most e-mailed lists -- nearly every site has a variation of this, and they occasionally point to something worthwhile AND relatively unknown. But for the most part, I steer clear of those.

In the wee hours of the morning, I open 50 or so tabs from a browser folder. Just about every major media outlet is included. Each afternoon, I do the same with a different 40 or so; these are more esoteric, special-interest and topic-specific. Alternating between a broad, wide scope and a narrow, deep one allows for a good mix.

Speed also counts. I follow Sturgeon’s revelation: 90 percent of everything is crap. Ruthless efficiency outweighs the occasional false positive.

Create a narrative.

I try to weave together a series of (apparently) unrelated items, which often have a commonality. It is a puzzle, finding that common thread.

Consider the primary topics that work their way through my links. Listing the subject matter in order of prevalence looks something like this:

  1. Markets
  2. Investing
  3. Economics, Fed
  4. Data analysis
  5. Behavioral psychology, cognitive errors
  6. Regulation, policy, taxes
  7. Science, technology, math
  8. Esoterica: unusual articles about current affairs
  9. Surprising, humorous or amusing
  10. Music, film, books, arts, food and travel

All 10 categories are obviously not represented every day, but most make guest appearances throughout any given week. Knowing the readership of this site, markets, investing and economics have the greatest representation; there have been occasional days when that’s all it is.

The narrative comes from finding a common theme. It’s nuanced, but if you squint you might be able to see it.

Be balanced, but have an opinion.

It’s important to recognize that this reflects the views of one person -- albeit one who is immersed in media as both a consumer and a producer. I have definite opinions about oh so many things. However, I am open to being convinced otherwise; that is why I use the “see also” or “but see” mentions to suggest there may be multiple opinions worth unpacking.

I am always surprised about accusations of bias. This week’s BuzzFeed link about Facebook selling guns was not, as several of you suggested, anti-gun. I enjoy shooting but believe in reasonable regulations, terrorist watchlists, etc. But the link was about Facebook, which seems to violate its own policies about nearly everything!

One last thing: Editors, not writers, create the headlines. A linked headline is often a “clickbaity” version of what the article is about. I have a novel idea: Please read the linked article before you accuse me of (fill in the blank).

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Barry Ritholtz at britholtz3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net