Read All About It

I know it’s old school, but man, I love newspapers – the actual kind made of paper. To me there are few things better than a rainy day when you have nothing to do, sitting around in your pajamas having a long, long breakfast and reading through a big, fat newspaper.

If the paper is fat enough and you’re in the mood to really examine all the features and articles and filler bits, a newspaper can keep you entertained for a couple of hours or more.  And I use the word, “entertained” deliberately because I don’t rely on newspapers to tell me what’s really going on in the world.

They are certainly one source of information, but if I read something particularly intriquing, I’ll always do some follow-up research. Because, I don’t know about you, but I find newspapers (and the media in general) kind of manipulative.

They pick and choose the news they’re going to report and how they’re going to report it. For instance, with this whole volcano thing, I’m  hearing a lot of people saying stuff like “there have been so many natural disasters in the world lately!”

Well, that’s not necessarily true. There have always been volcanos and earthquakes and hurricanes and tsunamis and all that other stuff and in pretty much the same numbers there are now – we just didn’t hear about them. There are a whole bunch of reasons why, but the point is that somehow the media has led us to believe that the world is practically coming to an end with one disaster after another.

And speaking of this volcano; why is it that the major news we’re hearing about this is all about the size of the ash cloud and whether or not airplanes can fly yet? What about all the people in Iceland living right there with this thing?

Another interesting example came up the other day when I was reading a story in the paper about a home invasion. The story said a bunch of men with baseball bats pushed their way into a house. It went on to say that there were 4 people in the house, one of the men suffered serious head injuries, two people were taken out of the house on stretchers, there was blood, etc., etc.

As I read, I thought to myself, “How awful! Who are these crazy people beating up folk in their homes? Is anyone safe anywhere anymore?”  It’s scary to read about stuff like that going on in your own city. Then near the end of the story the paper quotes one of the neighbours saying:

 People were constantly coming in and out of that house.

And right away I think,”Ah! Drug dealers!” And I feel better and safer because I’m not a drug dealer so now I don’t have to worry anymore about guys with baseball bats coming to beat me up in my home.

And then I think, “Hmmm, in every article I read about home invasions and other violence like this they always quote a neighbour saying exactly the same thing, and I always right away assume that means they were drug dealers. What if they were just really sociable people?”

 But that’s crazy. Of course they’re probably drug dealers and the police and the community and the journalist all know it. And probably that’s exactly what the neighbour said to the reporter, but the reporter can’t put that in the paper, so he cleverly gets the neighbour to tell him how he knows they’re drug dealers and then, of course the neighbour will go on to describe how people were coming and going all the time and – bingo – we have a very evocative code phrase that every reader will understand.

But this isn’t going to be a rant about the big, bad media. Because I reckon we need to take news with the same “buyer beware” attitude that we take with every other product we use or consume.

And really, newspapers have come a hell of a long way since their infancy back in the early 17th century. The first English language newspaper was actually printed in Amsterdam around 1620 because of bizarre printing laws in England forbidding stuff like this.

Newspapers back then and for a long, long time after that were filled with gossip, inuendo, sensational stories, advertisement and fiction – but you had no way of knowing really which was which.

Here’s an excerpt from The Athenian Mercury of Tuesday, February 28, 1693. See if you can spot anything particularly surprising regarding the language in this clipping. (It embiggens if you click on it)

Canada didn’t have a newspaper until 1752 – The Halifax Gazette. The two-page tabloid featured news copied from British, European, New England papers along with some local political and business information. Halifax had only been settled 3 years before that and had a population of only 4000, so it didn’t need much of a paper.

The most interesting thing about The Halifax Gazette is that it is probably North America’s longest running newspaper as it’s still being published in Nova Scotia under the name, The Royal Gazette. Quebec would dispute this claim however since their Chronicle Telegraph calls itself the oldest newspaper in North America.             

In the US, the first newspaper was published by Ben Franklin’s older brother, James — The New England Courant in 1721.

This is a clipping from that paper which appears to be a letter to the editor, but which is really a satircal essay written for the paper by a 15-year-old Benajamin Franklin.

Anyway, I seem to have veered way off track from my original thought (which I think about the nature of newspaper reportage in case you’ve lost track, too). So, in closing I just want to remind you that if you see your name in the newspaper and you’re described as “a person of interest” that does not mean you’re the Dos Equis guy or that some copper has the hots for you.

Authorities diverted a Bogota, Colombia-bound Continental Airlines flight to Florida on Friday because of a “potential person of interest” … CNN

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22 responses to “Read All About It

  1. “And speaking of this volcano; why is it that the major news we’re hearing about this is all about the size of the ash cloud and whether or not airplanes can fly yet? What about all the people in Iceland living right there with this thing?”

    A-freaking-men. After visiting (and absolutely falling in love with) Iceland last summer, I’ve been following this volcano thing since before the first one erupted a month ago. I read the (English) Icelandic news daily. I’ve been rooting for the volcano all along, because the entire island is made of volcano and I LOVE the island, so also must respect where it came from.

    I’ve been SO SICK of hearing about how incredibly inconvenienced everyone feels about not being able to fly. We are so lucky to be able to fly at all, and honestly, one week of not being able to travel is definitely not the worst thing that could happen.

    Now this man: http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_news/?cat_id=28304&ew_0_a_id=361092 ?

    He has something to complain about. Perspective is an amazing thing.

  2. the point is that somehow the media has led us to believe that the world is practically coming to an end with one disaster after another.

    Yes, yes YES!!! Why do people refuse to believe it’s not the case? Three earthquakes and a volcano erupting – see? that 2012 thing is obviously real! Yes, I heard that.

    The mind boggles.

  3. Props for making a reference to Dos Equis guy..

    I don’t know if you listen to CBC radio, but they have a series on advertising called the Age of Persuasion that i really love and it talks about how much the creator (ad man Terry O’Reilly ) love those commercials. I’ll try and see if I can find the episode.

    Anyways they have a book and will be at the Ottawa writers festival this Weekend (I think it’s Sunday night)

    Also I wonder how many of us younger people actually will keep reading newspapers. I’m in my 20s and I got sick of the Globe & Mail a while back (Too many ridiculous front page stories about gossip within the Liberal Party) and will never go back to having a newspapers subscription in paper form again.

  4. Frair – Maybe you could aim for the most interesting man in the blogosphere to begin with and work your way up? I haven’t read every blog by every man in the blogosphere, and from what I’ve seen there are some pretty interesting men out there, but I reckon you must have a pretty good shot at the title.

    Meagan – What a sad story. I kept thinking “Who gives a crap if you’re stuck in Berlin for another 3 days; what about Iceland? How the hell are people there coping with this thing? Should we be sending the Red Cross? Collecting money? What’s going on?” I guess we have to all read Iceland news.

    Jazz – All I heard all weekend was how many more disasters there are all of a sudden. Just like when the papers decide to report a whole bunch of airplane crashes in a row. People think it’s a weird coincidence that there are suddenly so many airplane crashes when in reality there are always exactly the same amount of airplane crashes – we just don’t hear about them because there’s some other more sensational news going on at the time.

    Justin – Thank YOU for mentioning the Writer’s Festival. It starts today actually and goes until Tuesday. I don’t have a subscription to any paper either. I like to decide at the last minute which paper(s) I’m in the mood for. Sometimes it’s the Globe, sometimes it’s The Star, sometimes it’s The Citizen; sometimes I get the Times or some other crazy foreign paper from the crazy foreign newspaper store.

    Friar – I like the feature stories on weekends. They actually have some substance. The regular news articles tell you almost nothing and there never seems to be any follow-up. Also, the news service articles are always kind of odd because I figure they cut chunks out of them to make them fit and often what’s left doesn’t make any sense. And most of the comics don’t make any sense either. Dilbert is an exception. Life in Hell is good when you can find it somewhere. Calvin and Hobbes and Far Side were good too. Which paper are you reading that makes the comics especially worth looking at?

  5. News is all about filling page space or airtime and sensationalism. I’m sure “research” of any one news source would find that there are little to no natural disasters in the months before a presidential election nor in the months following a political scandal.

    I love that old newspaper with the oversexed imps.

  6. @XUP

    I like the comics in the Ottawa Citizen. By default…they’re the best of all the newspapers available to me.

    The Globe and Mail’s and National Post’s comics really SUCK. I dont’ understand why they can’t “lower” themselves to devote one full page of harmless amusement.

    I guess that would make the Toronto crown look too “low brow”.

    As for me being “interesting” . Well, that can have many meanings. I’ll assume it’s meant as a compliment.

  7. Notice with papers, that if 5 people die in a Western country, it’s national news.

    But if a 1000 people die in a mudslide or some distaste in a Third World country…it’s lucky to make page 5.

  8. So true, all of it. I used to also like lying in bed lazily, perusing the entire paper. Wondering how much of it was true. Stuffing my face and trying to see my food and the paper at the same time.
    Then I started working at my state’s largest newspaper, and I had to read the paper every day, every night. Usually before it was even printed, had to read it on PDFs on my computer. Haven’t touched an actual newspaper since. Anyway, what’s my point? Oh yeah. I hear a lot of stuff around the newsroom that doesn’t get printed. Most of those home invasions happen to and/or by dealers of some kind. Drug dealers, gun dealers, stolen merch dealers, whatevs. Remember the old days, when you messed with the wrong group and they’d send a guy around to break your legs? Now they send a gang around to kill your family while you’re watching TV.

  9. @ Friar : Remember what Josef Stalin said :”When one dies its a tragedy, when a million die its a statistic”
    @ XUP: Maybe instead of reading those left wing newspapers you should watch FOX news? Its fair and balanced.
    We are seeing the return of “yellow journalism” because what William Randolph Hearst understood is still true today: Sensationalism sells newsprint.
    “…You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.”

  10. I give up a full 40 minutes of sleep every morning so that I can have quiet time with coffee and the newspaper before anyone else gets up. It’s my favourite time of the day. Yawn.

  11. Geewits – I think you’re right. And yes, witches sure had it made back in the day, didn’t they?

    Cedar – Hmmmmmmm.

    Julia – Ya, I do understand why planes can’t fly through the ash, I was just saying that a bunch of people being stuck in Europe surely isn’t the worst part of this disaster. (PS: Do you know when you add all those links to your comment, your comment ends up in my SPAM, waiting for me to approve it or throw it away…in case you’re wondering why it doesn’t show up right away)

    Friar – Well your blog is certainly interesting. Toronto Star has a whole bunch of coloured comics on Saturday. And I guess the Globe isn’t a family sort of newspaper. I suspect if their readers complained and demanded comics they’d throw those in. They also don’t have horoscopes. As for the disaster news – if it’s dramatic enough it will be news for a while. Remember the first tsunami? The next one barely got a foot note. I guess it helped that the first one was at Christmas.

    Mel – Hi Mel! Thanks for the comment. It’s always good to get validation from someone in the know. The interesting side effect of this “people were always coming and going from that house” thing is that we stop caring about that family getting killed. We reckon, if they’re in a shady business then they shouldn’t be surprised if someone wants to kill them one day. Which in a way is true – people shouldn’t be doing shit like that. But also, people shouldn’t be going around beating up people with baseball bats or killing people’s families.

    Lebowski – Yes, that’s what I meant by doing my own research. After reading all the papers I switch on to Fox news to get the truth. I don’t think there was really ever a time when journalism was any other colour. If you’re not getting people’s attention or holding their interest, then you don’t have a newspaper (or book, or TV show or TV news or blog…) So, really it’s our own fault for so greedily gobbling up all the gossip and melodrama over substance. Just like it’s our fault that our TV day is now full of reality shows instead of well-written, well-acted drama and comedy. We need our entertainment to be easy and action-packed. I had this argument with Friar about literature just the other day. If it’s not easy to consume and keeping you at the edge of your chair, no one wants to be bothered.

    Finola – I love that time of day, too. Only on weekends I get about 4 hours since the kid doesn’t crawl out of bed until noon.

    LGS – I know! I’m full of it, aren’t I. Ha ha. Don’t forget to do your own research. I’m pretty biased and often will present only the facts that support my argument.

  12. Okay, that was weird. It put my comment up before I had a chance to put an actual link in there.
    Let’s try again.

    Also, I only gave you the link to the airplane problems because the photos were quite revealing and scientific even, and I thought you would be interested in more data. I was fascinated by the pix of the engines.

  13. What’s different in the old newspaper – ‘fuck’ is a legitimate word. I love the past tense they use.

    Only bad news sells papers – I wish I understood why.

  14. Julia – They were interesting links. And the experiment with the embedded links is interesting too. Freaky.

    Anonymous – Fuck has been a legitimate word since the birth of the English language back when it was still basically a Germanic language. And it remained a legitimate word all through the dark ages and middle ages and 17th century. I think it was around the late 17th, early 18th century — during the Age of Reason that they standardized spellings and eliminated a lot of Germanic from the language — because French and Latin was so much more edifying.

  15. Oh… I forgot – I am waiting for an honest newspaper that will finally print the following:
    Save a buck. Read yesterday’s paper. It all the same shit anyhow.