Monday, August 20, 2007

I'm Not Interested. Period.

I can't remember the last time I did this.

No, not have three children. I mean read a regular newsprint newspaper with any kind of interest. Now that I think of it, forget "any kind of interest;" I can't remember the last time I read one at all.

It was not always so. If the newspaper was a bank account, I'd be retired and rich now. I can assure you that I have read more newspaper than any editor at the Boston Globe has, even though I stopped completely decades ago. I got an amazing head start.

My Father was a creature of the newspaper. He brought them all home from Boston every day. Boston used to have a lot of newspapers. I used to read the Globe, of course, but the Herald used to be several newspapers, and we read them all. I remember the Record American which was two different newspapers itself not long before that. There was something called the Herald Traveler, too. Some of these papers had more than one edition a day, too. Eventually it all got mashed together into what is now the Herald. And my father would bring the Catholic newspaper, The Pilot, home too. I'd read every last item in every one, do the crosswords, and generally wallow in it all until my hands were black. Books were still an expensive luxury then, and the library was a car ride away, so newsprint mattered.

When I got older, a young man, I used to read the Boston Globe, The New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal every day. I was considered sort of odd by my classmates in college for doing so. But I was already a man, and they were still children, even though we were more or less the same age. I was used to being different. I wasn't a kid anymore. I had held numerous jobs, been around some, and I wasn't any sort of tabula rasa. I started to notice something.

I noticed that there were two sorts of topics in the papers. They were topics I had first-hand knowledge of, and things of which I knew little. And I noticed that without fail, articles written about anything I had intimate knowledge about were absolute nonsense. And I began to notice the little word shifts and shimmies and angles that the authors and editors would use to grind whatever sort of ax they had. And I'm pretty dumb, of course, just like God made us all, but I figured out that it was unlikely that the newspaper was only getting the stuff I knew about wrong, on purpose. And by looking for the method of obfuscation I recognized in things I knew about, I could see what they were trying to fool me with in things I knew nothing about.

You can read the newspaper and find things out, still. But the process is like panning for gold. There's a lot of sand you've got to swish around to get the tiny, glittering pieces of information. And so I abandoned the papers with a heavy heart, because I loved them so. They were the nursemaids of Twain, and Mencken, and Bierce, and a multitude of others that I adore. The people working there now can't even spell, or figure out the difference between nouns and verbs. I wouldn't allow them anywhere near an adjective, even though if they could, they'd print only adjectives. Nouns and verbs lead to the reporting of facts. I think they'd get a rash if they tried it now.

The New York Times et al., like to tell people that the internet is killing their business. Please. I can't be the only one that noticed that the front page is the editorial section now, and the editorial page has the quality and usefulness of unhinged rants. I'm not really in the market for either. And I'm too young to read the obituaries.

I certainly do get my information in glittering pixels every day. But as usual, they're either fooling themselves, or trying to fool you. I buried you, Mr. Newspaper, in a shallow grave, a decade before I saw that magnificent arial text on that tiny little 486 intel computer over a modem. And I'm not interested in whether they're fooling themselves, or trying to fool me, trying to blame the internet.

Because I'm not interested. Period.


XWL said...

"quality and usefulness of unhinged rants"

For some reason my brain processed that phrase without one of the 'n's, and I read it as 'unhinged rats'.

I think unhinged rats are far more useful than newspaper editorials.

You could do a lot of things with a horde of unhinged rats, some of them even useful (in a nefarious way).

A hoard of newspaper editorials on the other hand, are only good at influencing the already influenced, and that does seem pretty useless.

SippicanCottage said...

Unhinged Rats would make an excellent name for a thrash metal band.

But then again, any two words that can be combined into a non-sequitur would make an excellent name for a thrash metal band.

XWL said...

You missed the memo, I guess.

The new 'meme' is that any incongruent pairing of words make a good name for a blog.

Blog names are the new thrash metal band names.

"Unhinged Rants" was available on blogspot, I've just claimed it.

I might even do something with it.

SippicanCottage said...

Hey, XWL, I'm busy today. Could you check and see if "Spittle-Flecked Deranged Diatribes" is taken yet?

Bobnormal said...

It's not sad really,I gave up ten years ago.I was without interweb for a short time recently and bought the L.A.Times,that lasted about one minute,great essay,

XWL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
XWL said...

Sorry, too busy actually making up posts for UNHINGED RANTS, the blog.

Blog names more than two words get too unwieldy, anyway.

klrfz1 said...

I used to read a newspaper everyday. The first thing I noticed was whenever they would print a letter to the editor that disagreed with one of their editorials, the letter was always filled with poor counter arguments and frequent non sequiturs. They never chose to print any good counter arguments, counter examples or pointed questions. I used to wonder if they just never received any good letters from people who disagreed with them. They would usually then print more than one intelligently written letters that agreed with their editorial position. So I tried sending them a few letters in opposition myself. Of course, I never saw a single one of those letters printed. I was never completely convinced the paper was deliberately skewing their letters page but later when I was introduced to the idea of a monolithic liberal media acting as information gatekeepers, I was easy to convince.

I will read a newspaper if one is available for free and there is nothing else to read. The classified section can be quite entertaining sometimes. Like window shopping without the windows or the walking.

Chris Byrne said...

THere was a time when local newspapers in major cities were actually worthwhile.

That was the time before News Corp, Gannett publications, and times mirror group.

At least then the papers all had their own character and editorial voice. Now, it's all the same poorly written, poorly researched, politically biased, historically ignorant crap.

My family had a distributorship for the Patriot Ledger, the Boston Herald, and the Brockton Enterprise; covering Milton, Randolph, Canton, Holbrook, and Stoughton. I think at one point we delivered to about 15,000 subscribers every day.

I used to work mornings before school and evenings after, plus summers, delivering both the morning and even papers. Best lesson on local geography you could ever have really.

Chris Byrne said...

Oh and I should note; I have no problem with open political bias in the news. THe fact is, everyone has opinions, unless one is a dolt; and I would prefer not to read the writing of dolts. The difference is that good writers will write FACT and opinion separately; and will be clear about which is which.

I say have all the bias you want; but be open about it.

It's when news pages pretend to be "objective" when they are transparently not so that I am infuriated. THe clumsy attempt to manipulate public perception is not only disingenuous and hypocritical (after all, they regularly castigate politicians and corporations for the same thing - of course pretending that they are not themselves employees of huge corporations) but in fact is directly deceitful and dishonorable.

The trade of journalism (I scoff at any who would think it a true profession) has descended into self parody and disgrace.

Michael said...

GREAT piece, you are correct about the internet not taking away their business, they stopped performing their business and people are searching for an unbiased source of knowledge. Like you, I noticed early on that something was just a little off. Back in third grade, we were given these short magazines filled with kid stuff, but mixed in with the games were articles on product testing on animals, and bunny rabbits with their eyes clamped open to insure that baby shampoo really was "no more tears", as I got older I too noticed that certain periodicals only presented the view that Susan Sarandon would approve of, and how it was stated over and over again that someone like me who inherited his values from his father had a "problem" with progressive ideas in today’s society. The breaking point for me was when I canceled my subscription to Time in mid cycle. I called and told them to never send another one of their magazines to my address again, "I don’t want your poison in my house" for my kids to read. I go to book stores often, I just purchased Le Morte D’Arthur yesterday, and couldn’t find ONE decent periodical that would not give me indigestion. I used to subscribed to 10 different magazines at once, but one by one, (except for Men’s Health) I’ve stopped renewing my subscription to the same old same old. Thank you for pointing out the obvious, someone needed to do it.

SippicanCottage said...

Thanks everyone for reading and commenting.

While reading Chris' comment, I might have gotten something in my eye, while recalling pedaling my bike around the neighborhood with a canvas bag over my shoulder and delivering the Woonsocket Call.

Jauhara said...

I confess, that I really enjoy the substitute routes I deliver for the local paper. Not that I read our paper any more than I would read the NYTimes or even the WashTimes, either. Who needs em? I do sorta. I get good pay to deliver out to the farms, I get to see the sunrise over the countryside, and the people are awfully nice...even though they don't have the interweb, yet. I reckon some do, but they aren't really interested in reading anything that can't be ripped up in an unhinged fit of ranting.

Rick Darby said...

Let's pay a corrupt scientist (or a political one — same thing) to announce that adjectives contribute to global warming. Particularly certain adjectives: "racist"; "sexist"; "xenophobic"; etc.

That will either put 95 percent of this country's journalists out of work and on the dole (because very few have any useful skills), or be the beginning of the long road back to quality news writing.

Zabrina said...

Great essay! I agree:

tjl said...

"The Brockton Enterprise"

My grandfather worked for the Brockton Enterprise all his life. In his day they didn't indulge in unhinged rants. The furthest they went was a column called "Editorial Quips," mostly about the weather.

The mention of the "Enterprise" is creating a Proustian moment. Suddenly I'm 6 years old and back in my grandfather's sanctum, his basement in Whitman, MA, full of fascinating old tools, old grandfather clocks, and the smell of old newsprint from his collection of back issues of the paper.

Harry said...

I remember first reading the Wall Street Journal and trying to figure out the regular columns. I remember asking my dad to explain what “options” were. When he explained it, I was astounded that grown men would do such a thing for a living.

Now my own blog is dedicated to noting the slide as the Boston Globe succumbs to the maladies that Sippican describe quite wells.

Kurt said...

Many years ago an economics professor of mine started the semester by asking the class (+/- 100 students) if they had ever witnessed an event that was subsequently on the news. A dozen or so students raised their hands. He then asked, of those students, how many reporters/editors had actually gotten the story right. No one raised their hand.

He went on to describe, as you have, how even a cursory knowledge on a subject enables one to easily pick out mistakes in a newspaper or broadcast story.

His point was that when we see news stories on the economy (among other things) it is an unfortunate characteristic that we give the story more weight the farther away from us it occurred and the less we knew about the subject...and why was it like that...considering how many mistakes were made on events that happened eithe right in front of us...or in a subject which we knew about.

It was a lesson I never forgot.

Anonymous said...

I live in a very small town, and the local weekly is still useful in understanding local politics and community events. But I still don't read it every week. I get the Fresno Bee twice a week, for local information and for columns by Victor Davis Hansen. The rest, I glance through sometimes, and occasionally find a story which is useful or interesting. And the newspaper carrier is a personal friend.

I have tried writing letters to the editor in the past when I thought stories were misleading, but my letters, when printed, were also edited to make them misleading. I read news and editiorial stories now with a sort of detached analytical attitude, as if I were a psychologist trying to find clues in conversation to help me understand a patient's neurosis. I think there is some value in understanding how the news is warped and how it may affect the attitudes and beliefs of people around me.

Anonymous said...

Despite their declining quality, reading newspapers is still probably better than getting your news from TV. At least in newspapers you have some chance to learn about events that don't come with pictures. And over the years, I have read a few opinion pieces which have really clarified my thinking. Obsession with the famous on TV still far outweighs the tiresome Hollywood news items in the papers.

I can remember stories, particularly from the Wall Street Journal, which clearly qualified as excellent, important reporting. And some "human interest" stories which were deep enough to be interesting. Few stories in the Fresno Bee impress me this way.

But even fewer local TV news stories impress me this way. I really try to avoid watching TV news. I largely depend on the blogosphere to tip me off to the "good stuff" remaining in newspapers.

SippicanCottage said...

TV news? That's like someone reading a bad newspaper to me. Really slowly.

Oh how I adore the internet.

Mark said...

This all gets me to wondering if there's a business opportunity in selling a newspaper that has nothing but a few ads and just enough pages for fishwrapping or birdcage-lining.

I mean, there's gotta be some reason people still get 'em, and I"m sure I could undersell 'em all....

Pastor_Jeff said...

The other thing which is helping kill the papers is Craigslist. Why pay for classifieds if you can get them for free?

Circulation is down, the papers are taking hits in the section which generates 40% of their ad revenue, and a new generation sees little or no value in printed newspapers.

Those are not good business trends.

SippicanCottage said...

Great comments.
Harry's web link is broken. Let's try again: Squaring The Boston Globe It's a form of public service to look after the mentally challenged. Go Harry.

I talked to my Father today. He reminded me of the Post. Two editions daily. Awesome. Long gone now.

Pastor Jeff reminds me of our local weekly free gazette, the Wanderer. It has all the polish of a kindergarten play, but everyone reads every page of it, especially the ads. It's the correct business model for the papers. Paying Maureen Dowd 7 or 8 figures to carp about nothing is not.

Pangloss said...

I was directed here by Dissecting Leftism. You've written a terrific autobiographical musing about the collapse of newspapers. Thanks.

I wrote about the structural flaws in newspapers, focusing on the major flaws in the journalist's code of ethics, in my site here. You might find it interesting.


S. Weasel said...

My dad worked in state government when I was a kid. Watching the way the papers savaged him whenever he came to their attention was an early clue. It was stupid stuff, too. He once made the mistake of saying, "I'm afraid I have nothing to say" which was reported as "So and So -- Afraid to Talk!" (As he told me at the time, this is why people say "no comment" robotically when confronted. Anything other construction is dangerous).

So I never developed the habit.