Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What We Get from Newspapers

If you are one of my friends on Facebook, you may have seen my post of this quote from essayist Anne Fadiman* a few days ago:

"People who read a 'paper' paper have to flip through a lot of international news before they get to what they think they're interested in. They at least glance at the headlines, and maybe they read a few stories they hadn't expected to. More and more, online news sources will give them only what they wanted in advance ... Custom filters are going to make Americans even more ignorant than they already are, which is plenty."

As I watch the depressing circus that now passes for political discourse in this country, that quote resonates now more than ever.

The rise of the Internet and the ready availability of 198,736 specialized cable and radio news channels means that people don't need to be bothered by news and opinions that don't agree with their preconceived notions, and don't need to go through the daily routine of paging through a newspaper.

Now that I'm retired, I have time to read the newspaper every morning. While I was working, the carrier often didn't deliver the paper until after I'd already left for work, which meant that most of my news intake was online, or via television or the radio. Those sources are okay, but the ability to hold a newspaper in your hands and read words printed on the page challenges you to absorb their meaning and, as Ms Fadiman notes, to be exposed to other articles you paged by to get where you wanted to go. You can make the argument that the same is true as you scroll through a website, but I think that high-speed scrolling while dodging embedded ads and click-bait is no substitute for the scanning of a physical page before you turn it.

My local newspaper is The Washington Post, which is frequently dismissed by conservatives** as a simplistic mouthpiece for wild-eyed radical leftist commiepinkoratbastards. Experience shows that it runs articles and opinion pieces from across the political spectrum***, although its editorial positions tend to be centrist to a bit left of center ... which enrages those whose information sources of choice lean more to Fox News or

I don't think too many people read newspapers any more. Circulation for most daily newspapers - at least those that don't show a naked lady on page 3 - has been declining as more and more people depend on radio, cable television, and the Internet for their information. Newspaper readership correlates to higher levels of education, but the levels of readership for all education levels is declining, as shown by this chart from the Pew Research Center ...

So, what's my point?

I think we'd be better off as a country if we read more newspapers, rather than getting our information from broadcast or online media, where the information tends to be a mile wide and an inch deep. We can learn more from a longer article that's backed by research than we can from a 30-second TV news spot or a short online piece. And they cover all the deadly sins, including wrath†† ...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* She's the daughter of author Clifton Fadiman, who wrote the silly, yet wonderfully erudite children's book Wally the Wordworm, which should be read to every child.

** Particularly those who don't read it.

*** George Will and Charles Krauthammer are regular contributors, and are hardly left-wingers.

† Which is taken from this larger Pew study of newspaper statistics.

†† Although it must be said that wrath is well-represented in the comments on any online article.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

Reading the graph - newspaper readership is declining. More educated people are more likely to read. I think that hometown readership has particularly declined recently. I wonder if the fluff content has increased, even in 'serious' newspapers.

I must admit that the snobbish tone of some papers like the NYT turns me off.

John Hill said...

I've never been a big newspaper reader. I read the paper more when I was younger and it was THE primary news source since I didn't watch TV. Maybe it's time to pick it up again.

Mike said...

Our local paper has less and less national news. Especially since it was purchased by an out of town conglomerate. It's more like the local ad rags.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Our local newspaper is disappointing, as are the other state newspapers.

allenwoodhaven said...

My family started and ran a newspaper for generations. As my mother once put it, I "have the family disease". I've read newspapers since I could read and always seek out local ones when I travel. I still get a paper delivered and subscribe to one on line. They've changed an enormous amount in the past 15 years.

There's something special about turning those pages and deciding what, and how much, one wants to know about any given article. Headlines are often all I need or want to know. TV and radio news make those decisions for us and I think we're poorer for it.