Keeping Up with the News

Do you remember when a daily or weekly newspaper — whether local, regional, or national in scope — was delivered to almost every home? I do.

The prevalence of newspapers — in number and market saturation — probably peaked in the 1950s. Though radio had been around for a while, radio news complemented papers rather than supplanting them. It took the rise of television, with its combination of images and immediacy, to reverse the prevalence of newspapers.

The effect that TV had on the newspaper business was intensified and supplanted by rise of the internet as a source of “information”.  The rise of the internet has also pushed TV news to the edge of irrelevancy, but iit has managed to survive by become more sensationalized and politically extreme.

TV and the internet, with their mass audiences, are better suited than newspapers to the ultra-urbanization and homogenization of America, which still had far to go in the middle of the 20th century. The effects of ultra-urbanization and homogenization — the devastation of small-town America and the rise of “bowling alone” — are reflected in the elimination or drastic reduction of the kind of fare that was common to local and even regional papers: reports of illnesses, hospitalizations, visits (to and from the home town), scholastic achievements and awards (from kindergarten on up), graduations from college, engagements, weddings, births, and divorces. Only “obituaries” seem to thrive, but almost all of them aren’t the news stories of yore but, rather, paid death announcements placed through funeral homes.

The death-spiral of the newspaper business — less content, fewer readers, fewer advertisers, less content, etc. — is now several decades old. Regional papers have gone out of business or consolidated. Local papers have gone out of business or been absorbed (though ineffectively) by regional papers. The content of the remaining papers consists largely of syndicated material that is bought by the yard. There’s still a market for stories about local events of general interest (e.g., sports, local government, crime, highway construction) that aren’t covered (or are covered superficially) on TV or the internet.

As for myself, I long ago quit watching TV news bias (except when there is a weather person who gives detailed and informative reports), just as I quit reading print news bias (except for local news that might affect me). The obvious reason is that I have for almost 60 years (unfortunately) lived where what passes for news is really leftist propaganda: “big government good”, “believe almost all women (accusers of Democrats excepted)”, etc., etc., etc. I am immune to such propaganda and have no wish to encourage or subsidize its transmission.

Because of my blogging I’m usually tracking down information — facts, numbers, cogent analyses — rather than absorbing media memes and narratives. I pick and choose from dozens of online sources of information, preferring those that deliver documented facts to those that are freighted with opinion. I eschew right-wing and left-wing propaganda outlets with equal distaste.

Yes, I read the headlines to keep more or less au courant with significant happenings. But the story behind the headlines often emerges slowly and in bits and pieces. The Trump-Russia-collusion narrative, for example, is just now becoming known as what it was all along: Obamagate. It’s the deeper story that interests me, and it takes a lot of surfing to ferret it out.

Most of my offline reading time is devoted to books and articles about science, philosophy, and history. I read a lot of book-length literary fiction, too, with an occasional foray into the detective-mystery-thriller genre.

Time was when I read the print edition of the The Washington Post daily, and at length; ditto the Sunday edition of The New York Times. Now, I give a few minutes of my day to some of come strips carried online by the Post, though the roster of strips worth reading dwindles with every passing year. Similarly, the Times is good for the crossword and a couple of word games. It’s all in the name of saving trees, of course.