Posts Tagged ‘New York Review of Books’

On fake news and no news

May 24, 2018

I like to keep up with what’s going on in the world, and I’m increasingly concerned at the narrowing of what is on offer in conventional newspapers and other mass media. Radio news is increasingly trivialised, even on the BBC, and as for TV news, well… editors set an agenda but what it’s based on, one is never quite sure. So, given the time constraints, someone has selected quite drastically what we are going to be told. And I remember someone once calculated that if you took all the words actually spoken in a half-hour TV news bulletin and set them out on paper, they would fill the equivalent of a couple of columns of a broadsheet newspaper. Hardly very informative, then.

So-called serious ewspapers in the UK have become increasingly focused on celebrity and lifestyle, which is cheap froth and fills pages, and also opinions on every subject under the sun written by the yard by people who know not very much about a subject. So newspaper now have several times the pagination they had three or four decades ago, but far less actual news. And if you think about the difference that getting your information from a website makes: it’s potentially a bottomless pit of links and clickbait: how do you actually know what’s there, compared with being able to turn over the  pages of a physical newspaper and glance at ALL the headlines?

Our newspapers also – perhaps inevitably, but also because it’s easy – focus on the anglophone world. We’re an island, and even though we’re only twenty miles off the coast of Europe, news of that continent impinges relatively little.

Where is one to turn for reliable and in-depth information?

I cast my net quite widely. I keep an eye on the New York Times and the Washington Post online, and Le Monde as a window on Europe. There’s a weekly digest from Der Spiegel in English which is often quite interesting, picking up on things I’d never otherwise come across, or offering a different take on matters from the British press.

I’ve kept up with the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books as they both offer very detailed and lengthy comment and analysis of topical issues, sometimes linked to newly-published books, sometimes just because the topic is of moment.

My main go-to for its breadth and scope of coverage of world issues, from a left-wing perspective, with an environmental slant and a recognition of the entire world rather than just parts of it, for the last 20 years or so has been the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique. Despite its title, it’s not written for diplomats or about diplomacy! It is published in numerous languages including English, and seems to me to offer a comprehensive coverage that I’ve so far not found anywhere else, and I judge that it has kept me informed about aspects of world politics, society and the environment that I’ve rarely seen covered in our press.

What I find most alarming about all this, is that not many people realise the subtle and gradual changes taking place, and also how very much easier it is for everyone to avoid news altogether now, if they wish to, never mind being bombarded by fake news…

On being informed…

December 13, 2015

images (1)    imagesI’ve always felt it’s important to make sure I’m well-informed about what’s going on in the world, and not just what will affect me. This has usually meant reading newspapers and magazines on current affairs, and I think it’s getting progressively harder to keep up with the world…

I discount television and radio, which are by nature less detailed. Television is more concerned with images, even though a picture may perhaps be worth a thousand words. Nowadays it’s about mugshots of nonentities standing pointlessly in front of buildings and holding forth in a few sceonds about issues that need hours… Radio sometimes does better; some programmes on BBC Radio 4 and the World Service are dedicated to analysis in depth.

It is the downhill path of almost all the printed media, particularly in this country, that concerns me most. We once had a quality press that could be counted on to consider important issues with some seriousness. The Guardian excelled in many fields, particularly analysis, the Daily Telegraph in the scope and depth of its news coverage. The Independent used to be serious and once lived up to its founders’ ideals. I’m certainly not convinced it’s just about my growing older, but all the papers seem to aim at frothy lifestyle coverage more than serious news, all aimed at a younger readership who are less likely to buy printed newspapers, and in the process are driving away older readers who might. I know we will eventually fall off our perches (that’s the story of the Daily Express par excellence), but meantime we might buy the papers and respond to the adverts.

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I won’t knowingly buy any Murdoch-owned paper, but the other three ‘serious’ papers have grown ever more trashy. There used to be many columnists who knew their field and wrote knowledgeably. Now Gary Younge has stopped his reporting for the Guardian on the US; Tim Garton Ash still manages to provide reflective coverage on Eastern Europe, and the Independent’s Robert Fisk is far and away the best writer on the Middle East. Otherwise it’s columnists writing by the yard to fill a regular allotted space, no matter whether they have anything meaningful to say or not…

It’s the fact that one needs to write at length to explore and analyse a topic thoroughly that’s at the heart of the problem: today’s reporters (!) and readers either have, or are judged to have, the attention span of a hamster. In English, serious and lengthy commentary appears in the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books, but, although they do print more general articles, they are, as their names suggest, primarily about books. Le Monde Diplomatique (do not let the title put you off) allows its reporters and analysts the space – one or two full pages, quite often; they write knowledgeably and analyse in depth, from a left-wing perspective. And the magazine is available in lots of different languages. Increasingly I respect and rely on its analysis. There are no pictures (!) and a dossier most months consisting of a series of articles examining a particular issue of world moment.

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How important is all this? I’ve had a bit of a rant here, and don’t apologise for it; I always used to tell my students to beware of anyone who came along offering simple solutions ot problems. Intelligent people deserve better than what the British press currently offers them.

 

 

Ephemera

June 10, 2014

Ephemera: I just love the sound of that word…almost onomatopoeic!

I’ve been thinking about how my reading habits have changed since the arrival of the internet, and wondering about the implications of the changes.

For starters, I no longer buy, and read from cover to cover (apart from the sports pages) a daily newspaper. Partly this is because my newspaper of choice (The Guardian, since you ask) has changed markedly over the same time period, along with all the others: less serious news, and more froth, showbiz, personalities, lifestyle and consumption. Instead I ‘look through’ several newspapers online, and read the few articles that attract my interest. But: do I read them as carefully? do I take in as much of what I read? do I attribute the same weight and importance to those articles? I suspect not, because they are surrounded by dross.

I’ve pretty much given up on magazines, too. I still take National Geographic, partly for the stunning photography, and partly because it takes me to parts of the world I’ll never get to. But even its in depth articles are shorter and shallower that they used to be. The only periodical I’m really attached to is Le Monde Diplomatique, a serious, analytical current affairs monthly, which hasn’t succumbed to the trivialisation that I feel has gone on elsewhere . Can you see my dead colonel’s hat yet?)

Yet I love the wealth of writing I can access online… as a serious reader I can read some of the brilliant stuff on the London Review of Books site, and the New York Review of Books, and Magazine Litteraire. I get the selection of interesting stuff selected by the editors of Arts & Letters Daily. I can look at political reviews, computing magazines…anything I like.

So I read a lot online – or am I just grazing? time-wasting? being sucked in to a world of trivia (except, as you can see above, I’m kidding myself that it’s real quality high-brow trivia, not everyone else’s Mail Online rubbish) and neglecting the real world of books? And if I wanted to do something about avoiding all this eye-candy, could I?

I suppose this all brings me back to an issue that I’ve been interested in, and followed for quite a while now: the idea that reading online, with its ability to flit effortlessly from page to page and idea to idea via a wealth of hyperlinks, is changing the way we think, the way we interact with and process the content of text. Recently I’ve come across several references (online!) to the fact that many students prefer reading real printed textbooks because they feel that they actually take in more than from a digital text. Also, there’s the idea that reading a printed book, with its visual layout and the way we can use it, maps itself onto our brain in a more complete and useful way than a digital book can…

Somehow, when I can tell myself that this is happening to other people, I feel safer (perhaps more smug?!) than when I realise that something similar is happening to me.

Help!

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