[One in an occasional series of talks with people highlighting long-form journalism online. Prior posts in this series include a look at Gangrey.com.]
From “a really little town” in Berkshire County, England, Richard Dunlop-Walters hopes to give you something worth checking out at a site called, well, “Give Me Something To Read.” The site catalogs links to long-form stories online, including the usual suspects at The New York Times and The New Yorker, engaging pieces from The Chronicle for Higher Education and The American Scholar, and odd gems like “How To Spot a Spook” from the November 1974 issue of Washington Monthly and a 1996 game theory argument in favor of promiscuity.
“Give Me Something To Read” grew out of Instapaper, which allows users to download stories for later reading. In June of last year, Dunlop-Walters took over editing duties for the site from Instapaper founder Marco Arment—who is also lead developer of Tumblr. Most of the audience for the site comes via the Instapaper app and Tumblr.
Stories that appear on the site arrive via both crowdsourcing and individual human intervention. Dunlop-Walters explains the crowdsourced part: “Once users bookmark an article a certain number of times, it goes into the queue.” The number required to get in the queue goes up, he says, as the traffic on Instapaper increases. Sifting through the queue of stories to find ones that make an impression, he chooses material for the left-hand column on the site, which is titled “Editor’s Picks.” The Editor’s Picks that get the most positive feedback via Tumblr’s notes system of likes and reblogs make up the bulk of the links in the right-hand column, which is titled “Greatest Hits.”
In terms of his own tastes, he talks less of fidelity to individual writers than to publications. Asked for specific examples of favorite articles, he mentions “How American Healthcare Killed My Father,” a piece from The Atlantic, and “The Interpreter,” a story about the Pirahã tribe in Brazil from The New Yorker that he says is “largely responsible for getting me into linguistics.”
While the site invites submissions, Dunlop-Walters says “maybe three or four people a week” actually send anything. Though he tends not to include interviews, his only rule is that selections must be nonfiction. “And it doesn’t have to be straight journalism,” he adds. “I posted a blog post called ‘The Secret Lives of Professors.’ But generally they come from newspapers and magazine articles.”
While there is less of an emphasis on narrative nonfiction than can be found at Gangrey.com or even @longreads, the site boasts a clear personality. It’s fond of think pieces, especially about human cognition and national security issues, and offers a poke in the eye on questions of sexual conventions and history.
“Curation is kind of an interesting thing,” says Dunlop-Walters. “It seems the Web is largely moving toward automation and crowdsourcing. When you rely on the opinions of everyone, things tend to average out and become boring—well, not exactly boring, but very rote and not surprising. I think it can be helpful to keep an individual sense of taste. I don’t think there’s anything that can replace that.”