Tuesday, May 03, 2005

It’s More Than Flooring for a Bird Cage

"What is the role of a free and independent press in a democratic society? Is it to be a passive conduit responsible only for the delivery of information between government and its people? Is it to aggressively print allegation and rumor independent of accuracy or fairness? Is it to show boobies?"
Jon Stewart, from America (The Book) A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction

It occurred to me while reading an article in Monday’s New York Times about the media working hard to keep advertisers that the Republicans’ continual harping about how bad the media is will only serve to hurt the country in the end. Newspaper circulation has been on a general decline since 1984, and has suffered especially in the last several years as other forms of media compete for the attention of readers, including cable television and the Internet.

The newspaper circulation fell 1.9 percent at major U.S. newspapers in the six-month period ending in March, an industry group reported, marking one of the worst declines in recent years.

I would content that the lack of real interest in current events has contributed to a general ignorance that allowed President George Bush to be re-elected. Since readership has been in decline since 1984, we have had only Republican presidents. Bill Clinton was an anomaly. He may never have been elected if H. Ross Perot had not siphoned votes from President Father Bush.

Today, people just read their news on the Internet or receive headlines from the network news. Network news is a misnomer, it’s more like network pabulum. Cable is just a bunch of talking heads pushing one agenda or the other. Granted, I know this is generalizing and reflects my bias, but our country in order to function properly needs an informed citizenry. Chances are that if you are reading this you are most likely a newspaper reader and informed about issues (or a relative checking to see if I have mentioned you – hello mother), since we mostly write about current events, except when B2 finds some new Chewbacca angle. Also, needless to say to our readers, but if you get your news from Toner Mishap you are certainly not among the informed, it would be like getting your news from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, just not as funny (it’s a cable show, you don’t get it mother).

I say subscribe to a newspaper today; and when you go on vacation donate that week or two to a local school. It’s important that newspaper reading is encouraged.


Devo said...

Perhaps you should mention that "Newsweek" and "US News and World Report" do NOT count as newspapers. The Weekly World News might count, as it digs deeply into those events which truly impact our lives, like Batboy or Satan's Face Appearing Over an Iraqi Oil-Rig Fire. Seriously, though, the first two rags I mention are little more than full-color versions of their supermarket-line brethren. Only perhaps they're more dangerous because they pose as genuine sources for reliable news.

I would argue that simply reading a newspaper does NOT make for an informed citizenry. Curiosity and passion must be mixed in. Simply reading the NYT or WSJ ain't gonna make us any more informed. Nor will it make our democracy (which is really a republic, but hey, we're now allowed to say nookyoolur, so why not call our government a Democracy while we're at it? Accuracy is for suckers and liberal smarty-pantses) any stronger. We must THINK about what we read. Does it make sense? What does it mean for our bank account/child/future/dismembered hooker in the trunk of our car/avocado tree? Why did it happen? Is it a bad thing? Is it a good thing? Does the periodical tell me it's either good or bad? Do I agree?

Surprisingly, most of these questions take little more than a nanosecond to ask and subsequently answer if accompanied by a through reading of virtually any article. However, since it's not done FOR us by the likes of a Sean Hannity or a Bill Moyers, we feel ill-equipped to digest this stuff ourselves. Thus, we are reduced to a nation spoon-fed with other people's opinions about the things that shape our culture and our society.

All hail the Great Prophet Orwell!!!

The Misanthrope said...

Devo, I agree with much of what you are saying. I don't have any issues with Newsweek, but US News and World Report I can't stomach.

No matter the newspaper or magazine, one should always read it with a dose of skepticism. My point is that it's better to read a newspaper than to get the news exclusively from just the TV or radio. Also, by reading the newspaper one creates a habit for reading and possibily a sense of curiosity to read further on a subject.

Devo said...

And Misanthrope, on that note, we are in complete and utter agreement. I even caved to the Harry Potter mania for that very reason. Hell, if it gives kids a reason to read voraciously, then it's GOTTA be OK somehow, right? Now I'm addicted to the damn things! That Hermione is a bit of a sexpot though.

The Misanthrope said...

I haven't read the books, but I have enjoyed the movies. However, I vaguely recall Prof. Harold Bloom, complaining that Harry Potter was not a good vehicle for kids because it was poorly written. But, he is a different character. Stephen King had or as an ongoing argument with Bloom about that and other reading items of popular interest.

DougBot said...

Why throw good money after bad?

The newspaper is just a time-delayed delivery mechanism for the same crap that's on the network news. There are a few exceptions, but it's really just more of the same.

Well, one could argue that it kills more trees than the news, but even then I'm not so sure.

Devo said...

Harold Bloom, now THERE'S a curmudgeonly blowhard with every license in the world to be just as stuck up and arrogant as he is. WHAT a douchebag genius. As you can see, I have a love hate agon with that guy. As to whether Harry Potter is well written or not... would you argue that Curious George is well written? I doubt it, but then again, children aren't looking for The Brothers Karamazov either! And I can't have EVERYTHING I read bearing the weight of the universe! I NEED fluff every now and again. And as long as I don't make a steady diet of it (which I fear many HP and Stephen King fans DO) then I think I'm creating a fairly balanced and well-informed mental playing field for myself. I don't want to hyper-intellectualize myself SO much that I'm incapable of interacting with Joe Sixpack, but I also don't want to dumb myself down to the level of a nematode on ritalin either. It's the good ol' Buddhist Middle Path I'm all about...

DougBot, you have a good point about the CONTENT of newspaper versus immediate gratification news delivery, but I believe that the content in this case isn't at issue. The delivery is at issue. Reading expands the mind, while watching TV narrows it. And I know, that's a gross generalization, but when it comes to news delivery it's plain truth. Reading allows for more filtration and critical thought than watching does; and similarly, watching the news bypasses that filter by focusing on the aural faculty for absorption rather than the ocular faculty. KnowwhutImean, Vern?

The Misanthrope said...

Sorry for being so tardy to respond, but the day job has been and still is very busy, but I want to add that the newspapers go into far more detail than an one- or two-minute network story. Granted, a newspaper story tends to repeat itself more often than a magazine article, but to me, I would much prefer reading a newspaper in my hands than online. Maybe it is just habit, but I like everything about holding and receiving newspapers and magazines.

Devo, we are on the same page with regards to Bloom and enjoying easy reading material too.