Where Do You Get Your News?
For about as long as I’ve lived where I live, I’ve been receiving a free newspaper every week in the mailbox. It’s not something I ever requested, it just came in, along with things like grocery store flyers. This technically made it spam, and I treated it as such, rarely giving it a glance, and just putting it in the appropriate recycling bin.
Starting around November 2020, however, I began paying attention to it. More specifically, every time it’d get delivered, typically on Sunday or Monday, I’d sit down, look at the articles and read the ones I found interesting. Part of the reason I used to avoid it is that I’ve always associated sitting down to read a physical newspaper as something old people do. I am not quite what you’d call old, but I already do lots of things that put me in contrast to most of my generation (buying CDs instead of paying for a streaming service, for example), so this silly prejudice wasn’t too difficult to put past me.
A second, and much bigger reason, for not picking it up was that I just wasn’t interested in news. In many ways I still am not – going to any online publication’s website, such as New York Times, and looking at the titles, >90% of the articles are a waste of time. The general principle I work with is that, if some piece of news is meaningful, I’ll hear about it in other ways, and if it’s not, then I lose nothing by not knowing about it. That isn’t to say that I get all of my news from second-hand accounts; if I hear of something and it piques my interest, that’s when I will seek out news articles and the like on the matter.
Part of the reason for my lack of interest is that I find the modern way of getting news to be very unpleasant. A large reason for enjoying the newspaper delivered to my mailbox every week is precisely that – it’s delivered every week. Once a week I sit down with it, look from cover to cover, read what’s interesting, and once that’s done, I had my fill of news until the next issue comes out. If you’re very interested in the news, a daily newspaper might work better, but many publications have shifted from a bi-weekly, weekly or daily schedule to an instant schedule. If something big happens, they scramble to get an article out as quickly as possible.
Have you ever had someone who you’re in constant contact with become unavailable for some time? Suddenly, all the little chit-chat you’d do throughout the day is gone. Then, they come back after a week or two, and ask you how you’ve been. Do you tell them absolutely everything that you would’ve said, had they always been there? Would you mention all the thoughts and events? Probably not. At least I haven’t, when something similar happened to me. There were things that, in the moment, felt significant, but reminiscing about them a few days later, they turned out to not be worth typing out.
News are similar, and this is why I prefer less frequent publications. Constantly updated publications may have some merit during events that are actually big – I’d appreciate a constant stream of news if I was living in Hong Kong, for example – but this need for speed eventually seeps into more mundane topics and ends up making mountains out of molehills. Additionally, because every minor thing is considered newsworthy, the newspaper has slowly transformed from a collection of articles on things that at least somewhat matter, to a near-endless feed of near-mindless entertainment. Many news sources popular in their respective countries, like the BBC, Reuters, Wirtualna Polska and more, have so many articles listed on their front pages alone that no sane person could get through them all. Of course, most people don’t, but because you can never close the browser thinking “I have read the news”, you always have the option to return, to scroll down and read some more drivel. It’s a system inspired by unending social media feeds, intended to keep you glued to the site, keep you looking at the advertisements.
The above paragraph contains something that may have caused some of you to wince or laugh condescendingly – I alluded to the idea that newspapers used to be “a collection of articles on things that at least somewhat matter”. I’m referring to the good old times, but in fact it is nothing more than romanticism. I doubt I’ve ever held a newspaper in my hands that wasn’t from the 21st century. I don’t really know how things were “back then”, whenever “then” was. Instead, what I really meant by that sentence was the idea of how newspapers ought to be. Perhaps they haven’t been this way in 10 years, perhaps in 50 years or 100 years, perhaps Gutenberg or even ancient Chinese printers were already putting out garbage. Regardless, I believe that this is how newspapers ought to be handled, and I sufficiently explained why modern publications don’t fulfil that role, regardless of whether the ideal presented ever existed or not.
There may seem to be an obvious solution to this – just visit the sites once a week, or however often I want to receive the news. However, that’s not a solution. If I refuse to read the news everyday in order to avoid the pointless articles, waiting a week will not give me a curated list of the best articles from that week. It’ll just give me all the articles, worthless or otherwise, from the day I decide to read the paper, sparing me from seeing the news from all the previous days – again, worthless or otherwise.
Besides, this tactic presupposes that I can even find a news source worth looking at, which is not a given. Something that permeates the news cycle is the unreasonable focus on Europe and North America. Take any country in Europe, and look at its newspapers. Some 50% of articles will be on things directly related to that country. Then, between 10% and 30% will be reserved for the United States, depending on how much of a shill the given country is (I’m looking at you, Poland, you bootlicker), 15-35% will concern the other European countries, depending on how much space was given to the U.S, and around 5% will be left for news stories from the other 5 continents. If you’re from the United States, your news sources likely concern themselves 80-90% with national affairs, and if you pay attention, you’ll sometimes notice the writers forget that the rest of the world even exists.
A nice way to become more aware of the wider world and that there is, in fact, a wider world beyond the Euro-America-centric news coverage we’re used to, is to head over to Global Voices. It’s a news organisation dedicated to shedding light on topics that more conventional sources may not care to mention. You’ll hear about growing underground cultures in Kazakhstan, human rights protests in Zimbabwe, subjugation of Thailand by the Chinese government, digital surveillance of Nigerian citizens, and much more.
You might ask, if I find news about France, Germany and the U.S. worthless, why would I care about Thailand, Kazakhstan, Nigeria or Zimbabwe? And the answer is, I actually don’t. Here’s the thing – the world is big. Really big. Even a single country is often too big to really matter. Living in southern Portugal, events happening in the northern part of the country (unless they can lead to political repercussions) are about as meaningful to me as a worm in my backyard. Actually even less so, because if I don’t see any worms, I may have a problem with nutrient-deficient soil if I try to grow something. Just because we’ve decided to, for some reason, treat news from Europe and North America as more important than other parts of the world, as somewhat more local and meaningful, is our folly, and it is entirely artificial. Notice how I use the word “we”, which presupposes that the reader is from one of those two continents. That’s how ingrained that kind of thinking is. If the “we” does not apply to you, I apologize, and will try to abstain from it going forward. European countries had to create a union to matter, and the States are mentally stuck in the 1950s. The colonial powers are waning, and pretending like they’re still the most important, the most advanced and powerful countries, is silly and will do no good.
This outlook means that, even if I were to find a newspaper that releases on a weekly basis and only features solid articles, a lot of its content would likely still be pointless in the long run. Instead of paying attention to an area of the globe that is as artificially chosen as it is unimportant, I’d rather focus on local news. In reading the free newspaper that I get each week, I’ve found out about a small store opening in my city, which encourages customers to reuse and recycle clothes instead of buying new and throwing away. I’d learned about an interesting business not too far from me, which, through clever marketing, experienced greater income during the pandemic than it had before. I’d learned when the local healthcare unit is planning to make Covid-19 vaccines available. These stories may sound insignificant, and they mostly are, but they’re actually more relevant to me than even big news overseas, like presidential impeachments. They contain information that will have more direct impact on me and the place where I live. They also have the effect of bolstering knowledge and awareness of the local sphere, which is something that’s been vanishing over the years. I won’t get into the details, as the topic is deep and worth of its own post, but basically, if you don’t want the world to turn into a bunch of outposts for Google, Amazon, etc. you should support your local community.
One of the ways for supporting your local community is paying for local news. But here, a conflict of interests arises. I know of one local newspaper (the only one, from what I’ve been able to find out). Wanting to support local businesses makes me want to subscribe to it, but the print edition costs a fair bit more than the digital edition, and it’s more damaging for the environment. At the same time, the digital version means that I am subject to the same constant stream of drivel that I’ve expressed disdain for. If it’s not something I may not want to read, paying for it seems somewhat silly. Seeking a publication that’s more aligned to my ideals also doesn’t help, as a national or a large regional newspaper can’t possibly portray all the local goings on for every part of the country or region. This is a conundrum I have yet to find a solution for, sadly.
I want you to keep in mind that I’m not advocating a complete lack of care for the world. Yes, the news sucks. Most of it is designed to be a waste of time, and showcases many countries’ prejudices. But there are still reasons to seek news. Because of how globally interconnected everything is, some things far away can still have a significant impact on you, and even things that don’t can be worth looking into, for relating to your interests, values, and more. What I preach is a critical view of the kind of news you’re fed, a more open-minded approach to global matters and a strengthened focus on local matters.