Monday, November 04, 2013

Headlines

It's become cliche to say that we live in the information age. Billions of characters pour into the internet every day, and some of that is called "news". We have created many ways to consume news. Newspapers have become static, unable to change with the flow of events once printed. Even television news offers but a smear of what is really happening around us. Now we get our news on our computers, our phones, our tablets and some of us still listen to the radio. We get print, audio and video, however we want it.

Good reporters do the hard work of digging into stories and dishing up the details in a way that is easy to consume given the time. They make phone calls, dig into government records, establish contacts and sources that are the foundation of the news they report. It is a source of pride for every reporter to find a big scoop on breaking news.

Unfortunately, reporters can have a tough time of their jobs. Some are killed or beaten for their reporting. Most times, they are censored by oppressive regimes. Their work, even in a free country, is often in vain for few have the time to read long pieces with the details. Even internet reports on the various video services can only devote so much time as working people barely have enough time to work and attend to their families and have some time for recreation. Who has time to read a detailed article or watch a fascinating report on the internet for an hour?

When I read the news, I find that so much of it is far removed from my life. I see the headlines, try to make sense of it, then decide if I want to read the article. Each article could be 5-15 minutes of concentration as I read it and try to understand it, and then try to understand its impact on me and my family. I would love to have time for this, but there are limits on comprehension. There is only so much that I can read and organize in my head.

I used to listen to NPR every day. I thought there were some very interesting stories there for a time. But then I noticed that I began to feel unhappy, uneasy. I came to call NPR, "Resentment Radio". It just seemed like every time I listened to the news on NPR, I found myself unhappy. Sometimes I find something interesting, worthy of further investigation, but that means sitting around at home, reading the article related to the audio report I just heard. Then I'd be researching other articles to see if there is some coherence to the story among other reporters.

I used to watch the local news, too. I like the weather reports when we get something interesting coming our way, which isn't very often - snow is my biggest draw to the news. Most of the local news though, is about people doing really nasty stuff to other people. A slow newsday? "A pickup truck has crashed into the living room of a house today..." That was getting me down, too. I have since come to realize that people who engage in violent crime are just people who are not willing to ask for the help they need. I know they're out there and I don't need to abuse my brain with daily stories of gory details. I just try to live a life of peace here and get along.

One tool that I've used to make sense of a story is Google News. Under each headline, you'll see something like "1,545 stories similar to this" as a link. I click on that link and I get a ton of other stories to check out. This is very useful for checking facts on a story. By picking news sources that have different philosophies, say, conservative and liberal, I can find confirmation of facts from sources with entirely different perspectives on a story. I've even found word-for-word plagiarism and reported it to the original source. This to me, is the beauty of what Google has to offer in terms of news. At times I have wondered if the news services are more worried about having their articles compared to others for accuracy than about being paid by Google for listing the headline with this feature of Google News in play.

In the end, though, we just have our own little sphere of influence. I don't have much influence over events in the Middle East, or China, or at the Federal Reserve. Wall Street? My stocks are going sideways. The trade deficit? Just another headline I can do almost nothing about. The Federal Budget deficit? I can't imagine a million dollars much less a trillion. I am just an observer of 99% of the news that I read. Every once in a while, I see something that directly affects me. Most times, it's just a headline.
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