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