News is bad for you

“News items are bubbles popping on the surface of a deeper world.” I’m one week away from one full year without TV/Cable news. It stopped being an experiment a while back. It has been satisfying in ways I can’t really explain. This article takes a shot at it:

The daily repetition of news about things we can’t act upon makes us passive. […] Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business.

News is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking. That’s why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind.

Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After four, five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, they become restless. It’s not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed.

Fear Culture, USA

Next month will be one year since I stopped watching TV/cable news (and listening to radio news). I feel… lighter? More awake? Difficult to describe.

Michael Amato explores this inescapable hold the media has on American life in Fear Culture, USA. His carefully staged photographs depict TVs glowing from corners in living rooms, gas stations, and other everyday environments. Sensationalist news stories beam from the screens, charging these otherwise untroubled scenes with a sense of doom. “Cable news projects fear into everyday environments,” Amato says, “and it can be very overwhelming.”

Evidence-based journalsim

Jimmy Wales explains evidence-based journalism:

“If someone is — by name and with their reputation at stake — criticising you, then the penalty for not clearly rebutting on the record should be that your side simply isn’t heard.”

And transparency.

“Let’s say we call someone up to get a quote on a hot-button issue. We have a 15-minute phone conversation and we use a section of it in an article about the issue. How do you know whether the quote was fairly reported, or taken out of context? By checking the source. Wherever we can, we’ll publish the entire conversation — audio and transcript — so you can check exactly what was asked, what was said, and even in what tone.”

Portable cassette recorders

Came across this old photo (circa 1988) today and was — once again — struck by the gear we used. This is Lisa Wolfe, a reporter for The Missourinet.

The Radio Shack recorder is jacked into the Shure mixer which is wired into the big cart deck and the phone. So a reporter recorded audio from the phone (with a push-to-talk button in the hand piece); they then dubbed the audio bits they wanted to carts which they carried into the studio for newscasts. When they went into the field they unplugged the cassette recorder.

There were better recorders available but they were all much more expensive than the Radio Shack model which was damn near disposable. The problem was the buttons. Using the recorders as the did (endlessly starting, stopping, fast-forwarding, rewinding) trashed the buttons in no time.

The early SuperScopes (by Marantz) were good but every time they came out with a new model with more features, the buttons got flimsier and flimsier. And the recorders got more and more expensive. And they were nearly impossible to repair. So… Radio Shack.

Thinking back on those days, it occurs to me the cassette recorder was — in some ways — the laptop computer of that day. In the sense that it was our main tool for creating the content of the day (for us): audio.

Of course you needed a radio station or (in our case) a network of radio stations. But we sort of took that for granted.

Wikitribune

I’m a big fan of Wikipedia. Whenever Jimmy Wales puts up one of those “we need your support” banners, I pitch in. Tomorrow (?) he’s launching a new project called Wikitribune.

“…a new online publication which will aim to fight fake news by pairing professional journalists with an army of volunteer community contributors. Wikitribune plans to pay for the reporters by raising money from a crowdfunding campaign. Wales intends to cover general issues, such as US and UK politics, through to specialist science and technology.”

Is that ‘through to specialist science and technology’ a typo?

“Those who donate will become supporters, who in turn will have a say in which subjects and story threads the site focuses on. And Wales intends that the community of readers will fact-check and subedit published articles. Like Wikipedia, Wales’s new project will be free to access. The publication is launching on Tuesday 25 April with a crowdfunding campaign pre-selling monthly “support packages” to fund the initial journalists.”

I’m not clear on how this effort will combat ‘fake news’ but don’t much care. People who shriek ‘fake news’ whenever they hear a story they don’t agree with have lost all credibility with me. I’ll be down for a monthly ‘support package.’

The story says journalists will “share full transcripts, video and audio of interviews.” Is there any news organization that routinely does this? If not, I wonder why.

UPDATE (9:20 a.m.) April 25, 2017 — I chose the $120 annually support option. If they don’t reach their goal (enough to hire 10 journalists) in 30 days, I get my money back. As of this writing they had 1,827 supporters, enough to hire one reporter.

News is bad for you

“News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier.” That’s the main idea in an essay by Rolf Dobelli (The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions). I’ve had that feeling (in my gut) for a while now and stopped watching TV and cable news a fews months ago. Stopped listening to radio news as well. Gave up Twitter. All I can tell you is, I feel better.

Mr. Dobelli makes some interesting points. A few of my favorites:

News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking.

Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind.

Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business.

The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age.

The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand.

Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers.

Not sure what to make of the fact I found this on The Guardian website. A news organization.

Wire Service

I recall visiting the radio station where my father worked and standing in front of the Associated Press teletype, entranced by the endless stream of words. Who was typing? Where were they? Did they ever stop?

Years later, as a young man, I got a job at the station and came to depend on the AP “wire.” It was our only link to real-time (I’m not sure that phrase even existed in 1972) news and information from outside our little town. The daily newspaper was tossed on the doorstep every afternoon (or you could get the Memphis paper a day late). The three national TV networks gave us a half-hour of national news each evening.

Our radio station didn’t have a national news network (until 1974) so we relied on the Associated Press newswire for just about everything throughout the day. During a live “board shift” we would dash to the AP teletype (in the transmitter room) and “rip the wire” which involved tearing a long strip of printed wire copy into piles of news, weather, sports, entertainment news, etc. If the paper jammed or the ribbon broke, we missed whatever was fed. If something the AP considered urgent was fed, an alarm bell on the teletype sounded.

A radio station had to have a wire service. Without it they were limited to playing records and reading local news and school lunch menus. The AP knew this and charged accordingly. Thousands of dollars a year. Contracts were for five years. But there was no alternative.

In 1984 I left the radio station to take a job managing The Missourinet, a statewide news network originating from Jefferson City, Missouri. I worked for (parent company) Learfield Communications for the next 28 years. One of the more interesting projects I worked on was the creation of a low-cost alternative to the Associated Press. We called it Learfield Data (later, Learfield Newswire).

I worked on this (along with bunch of other people) for a dozen years from the late ’80s through 2000. At one time we had 300 subscribers. When the World Wide Web became a reality in the mid-90s it was clear the days of wire services were numbered. Road kill on the Information Highway. You can read the story of how it began and ended here.