Saturday, January 10, 2009

We No Longer Take A Newspaper

For the first time in my whole life I live in a house that does not have a regular subscription to a daily newspaper. This is not to say that we are no longer keeping up with the news (although it is SO bad that often I would rather bury my head in the sand), rather it is a vote of no confidence in the quality of daily journalism. While I find journalism leaving a lot to be desired everywhere, in the UK it seems to be particularly unattractive.

I read a newspaper so that I might learn what is going on in the world, and while I realize that I am going to get it funneled to me through the perceptions of the writer, I have reached a point where I am tired of the journalist propaganizing me for his or her particular agenda. Since my initial first-hand encounters with the press in the early 1970s when I discovered that their description of events at which I was present did not seem to jibe with what I had seen and experienced, I have been leary of the media. Over the years, on those rare occasions when I have been interviewed, I have concluded that rather than listening to what I am saying and engaging with me, they have instead been looking for a hook on which to hang a story that might have a whiff of controversy about it. Since the dreadful fall of 2003, after a particularly painful episode, I have avoided dealing with journalists altogether.

It seems to me that if we want to get a rough idea of what is actually going on then we need to gather our news from a whole variety of sources, taking into account the innate biases that these sources might have. One newspaper with its own editorial line is no longer enough, and if taken needs to be supplemented by all sorts of other publications in various media formats. Neither is one broadcasting source enough, whether it is the BBC or the Fox News Channel, each of which has their own bias despite their vaunted claims otherwise.

These days we find ourselves primarily drawing on the Economist, the BBC (both domestic and the World Service), the online New York Times, CNN International, CNBC, Bloomberg, the online Tennessean, the online Times of London, and the headline services that appear on AOL, Yahoo, and other internet portals. The important thing is then to measure reports from different sources against one another, mentally debating their reports and assertions. I know that I am going to get much more serious reporting of current events from the BBC World Service, the Economist, and the NY Times, but then unlike AOL and Yahoo they don't give me interesting little snippets of information that provide some flavor for our worldview.

I think it is the Times of London that has disappointed me the most since returning to England. This once great icon of serious news reporting seems to have lost its way in the rough and tumble of the highly competitive newspaper market in Britain, and as a result the perspective of its reporters and correspondents leaves the reading asking questions about what actually is going on. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum the popular daily tabloids are about as helpful as the average weekly tabloid found at the supermarket checkout in the USA! This might be amusing, but it needs to be remembered that it is these that are shaping popular opinion.

The media that I have missed most since returning to Britain has been National Public Radio and the wonderful current affairs programming of Public Television. NPR has always said that it has modeled itself on the BBC -- well, I would have to say that in much of its handling of the news it has surpassed the Beeb by far.

The funny thing is that I don't feel anything is missing now that a newspaper is no longer delivered each day to our home, which rather surprises me. I rather like it that twice a day the New York Times plops into my online intray, and despite the howls of some that the Times is too liberal there is something stately about the way in which it handles the stories and issues that are concerning the world. I am actually looking forward to Amazon beginning to sell the Kindle outside of the USA because I intend to buy one -- and could very well subscribe to have the NY Times delivered to it!

I guess, therefore, that there are two reasons why we no longer receive the delivery of a newspaper. One is that the journalism is not of a quality that we actually want to pay for it, and the other is that we are actually find ourselves being ushered further into the electronic age of news delivery services. However, I am old-fashioned enough to say that if a newspaper is worth buying then I would jump for it. When we were recently on vacation in Vienna we read the International Herald Tribune, a publication that I think is a real winner.

There is increasing talk about newspapers going under in the midst of the economic crisis, and of journalists losing their jobs. Perhaps one of the ways this could be prevented would be their willingness to publish the quality that would make you mad not to subscribe to their publication.