Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Nobody paused to notice

Vidot made a small tsk-tsk sound. He never liked to share information about cases he was investigating. He was relieved that the tale of the Parisian man impaled impossibly high on the irons about rue Rataud, had so far, miraculously, not appeared in the local papers. He did not need the attention. He would have thought an incredible death like that would have headlined as the crime of the year, but Mitterrand's scandal, Cuba's charismatic young Fidel Castro, and the ongoing unrest in Algiers continued to eat up the headlines. Vidot thought these were indeed amazing times, when a man could be hung high on the street with a spike through his neck and nobody paused to notice.
— from Babayaga, by Toby Barlow.

The past several weeks I've been enjoying a free subscription to a national newspaper. I don't usually go in for sales pitches for this type of product, but: free! and no commitment! Besides, I've always admired people who manage to read the paper daily (my other half among them). I've never considered myself sufficiently well informed on current events (adequately, perhaps). So, I thought, I would read the newspaper and become smarter.

I have realized a few things these past weeks:
  • I know more than I think I do. It seems that through osmosis and the generally passive process of clicking through on random assortments* of links (i.e., in my non–newspaper-reading life), I learn more than nothing.
  • Print newspapers are full of ads. They are not as annoying as online ads, however, and sometimes they are interesting to read. They also contribute to bulking out the page count and the sense of accomplishment for having plowed through it all.
  • Print newspapers have more contributions from the community than I remember, beyond letters to the editor. They solicit personal essays, reviews, and opinions. They are often as pointless and as poorly written as the commentary the online world is reputed to have.
  • "This day in history" qualifies as "news," worthy of page 2. I suspect there is a long tradition of this, with the intent of educating the public or fuelling water cooler discussion by providing a common touchpoint. But, really?
  • It is enjoyable to read the newspaper with my morning coffee, but no more so than doing a crossword puzzle with my morning coffee, or checking my email and online news with my morning coffee.

While not especially witty or significant, the above passage (Babayaga: a tale of spies, Paris, and witches!) stands out for me.

What qualifies as news? What gets lost amid the din? Amazing times indeed.

*Random assortments tend to be in fact vaguely directed, given that I gravitate toward certain websites, and within those sites only certain items on certain subject matter will capture my attention, etc. In general, I do not play dice with the Internet.

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