Thursday, 7 November 2013

Here Now the News...

Hello Friends.

A news cycle is fascinating, isn’t it? I had Tuesday and Wednesday off this week, just as Rob Ford mumbled something about smoking crack and I became interested, engrossed, obsessed, saturated, over-saturated, sick, hungry, bored, and then vaguely interested again in about two hours. People said, “This is nuts!” And I thought, “Yeah! It IS nuts!” But then people said, “I’m sick of hearing about this! There’s more important things going on in this country!” And I thought, “Yeah! I’m sick of this too!” But then people said, “But he’s a mayor of a major city and he’s SMOKING CRACK! What is this if not a major news story worthy of coverage?” And I thought, “Stop yelling at me, everyone.”

The trouble with the news media is that they’ve simultaneously got too much and too little to do. They have column inches and Twitter feeds and 24 hour channels and blog posts to fill, but everything has to be short, punchy and palatable. For instance, I’m sure Syria is in some kind of trouble right now, but since there doesn’t seem to be a quick, clever way to convey what is surely a complex problem, I have no idea what’s going on over there. Journalism has to be a very different occupation now than it ever was. An investigative piece must necessarily have a turnaround time of a couple of hours. There’s no time to achieve complexity there, no room for depth or alternative perspectives. While multiple news media platforms is a good thing, its demand for “content” surely creates greater quantity than quality. Maybe news should be more than something quickly dashed off “in a drunken stupor.” It’s time for a change.

Dream: Reform the news media.

Goal: Achievable. I am not a Powerful or Influential person, but I am a consumer, and surely news is ruled by the almighty dollar. Since I don’t pay for any news, though, that’s a problem. However, surely online news sources get revenue from page views. Actually, sidebar, check this shit out! I tried to freelance for Yahoo! last year, shocked to learn that Yahoo! was still a thing after 1997. They liked my samples and forwarded me their rates. Are you ready for this? If I were to write for Yahoo! News, I’d get $2.00 for every 20 000 pageviews! WHAT THE WHAT WHAT?! That means even if a million people read something I wrote, I would only earn $100. For a news website. That is shocking. I mean, isn’t it? Maybe it isn’t, what do I know what newsman make?

But somebody is earning money every time we click a Facebook link or something off our Twitter feeds, or at least somebody is using that pattern of clicks and Likes to determine what content gets published, promoted, and consumed. I don’t have the power to change what those things are, but I do know how to make the news better for myself.

Plan: Become a more critical thinker and discerning consumer of news media. Here are some filters I really try to use when I wake up in the morning, scroll past some headlines, and decide where to park.

I consider the source. If someone like me can potentially write for Yahoo!, then surely journalistic integrity isn’t the highest priority. Often, I’ll be reading a piece that someone posted on their Facebook page and find a comma splice, spelling error, or unfinished. I was reading what I thought was an article about Michael Jackson and somebody said that the release of the album Thriller “cemented his job as a worldwide icon.” What does that mean? How do you cement a job? That’s not a thing you do. Anyway, the same is true of more substantial pieces about politics or whatever. There is often a slant or bias, facts are peppered with opinions. I don’t need my mind made up before I make up my mind, y’know?

I consider the scope. Speaking of articles rife with errors, I never know when to use “affect” or “effect” (and don’t you dare try explaining it to me, I’ll fucking scream!), but I like to know what effect something reported on the news has on other things. I do think Rob Ford smoking crack is worth extensive discussion because how did this guy get to be mayor? Surely we have reason to question his effectiveness (efficacy? There it is again!) as leader. But sometimes I binge on something supposedly newsworthy that has no affect (?) on me whatsoever. Like Miley Cyrus can do whatever the fuck she wants. She doesn’t lead a city or determine policy or threatened to murder people. Reading “think pieces” about her is like filling up on popcorn. Like it or not, we’re all fed a steady media diet, so it’s probably in our best interest to make healthier choices. To that end…

I’m not an old person, but I feel like I have a delicate constitution or something. Too much upsetting information will throw me off for days. I wish I could stomach information about how our food is made, about child sex slaves, about rebel soldiers literally eating each other’s hearts out, but I can’t. Maybe this is willful ignorance, maybe I’m a crappy ostrich sticking his head in the sand, maybe I want to think the world is a nicer place than it is. I think maybe tough news is easier to take depending on the packaging. I try to read The Guardian online, or watch BBC World News because the Brits have an excellent remove in their reportage. They speak with calm authority about genocides or droughts and somehow the information is more palatable in this way.

I use the news as a springboard to learn stuff. More than anyone, the Doc has taught me how to do this. You know how sometimes you get in a YouTube vortex, where viewing one video leads to another leads to another and suddenly you’re watching Miss America 1987 and it’s two in the morning? Jon does that with news. On a Friday night, for instance, I go to bed earlier than he does because I often work Saturdays. So last Friday we were talking about the possible suspension of Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Mike Duffy before I went to bed. When I woke up, there were dozens of windows open on the laptop, linked to dozens of articles about senators, past and present, similar scandals in other countries, different laws which set different precedence and on and on and on. Jon is far and away the most intellectually curious person I have ever met and makes his consumption of media a kind of sport. Watching CPAC on his lunch hour just fuels his tank. It’s inspiring to watch, but exhausting too. It’s like he’s never seen a dog on a skateboard video in his whole life.

Finally, sometimes it’s good to remember that you can turn the news off. I know it’s important to stay informant, but we don’t have to be vigilant. For instance tonight, instead of trolling the blogosphere, I’m tucking in early to read more of a novella I’m in the middle of where this couple married 30 years is headed to divorce, but decide to spend their last weekend together in a Niagara Falls casino. Impulsively, they decide to gamble what’s left of their joint savings on one roll of the roulette wheel on the last night of their trip. If they win, the book suggests, the dividends on that payout could sustain them and get them out of debt. If they lose, they will cut their losses and divorce. It’s a small book with a simple premise but it’s far more engrossing than any cracked-out mayor. There is more than all the news that’s fit to print out there. If I miss a big story, someone will catch me up on it eventually. For now, though, it’s snowy and blowy and my bed is warm and my book is waiting and if there’s anything more inviting than that, well, it would be news to me.

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