i am not reading the paper

News without Newspapers

I no longer read the newspaper. Unfortunately for the newspaper industry, this is true of many of us. Instead of relaxing at the table with the daily paper, sipping my cup of coffee, I relax in front of my laptop, sipping my cup of coffee. My favorite almost-daily comic isn't even in a newspaper. It is Dave Kellett's Sheldon. I receive it in by e-mail, or, if I don't feel like falling into the pit of have I read it? do I need to answer it?, I can go straight to its web home, http://www.sheldoncomics.com. The newspaper was always disposable, and much of it got in my way when I was trying to read stories of importance or interest to me. It was an awkward size, best for hiding behind, perhaps, when the last thing you wanted in the morning was conversation. However, I can't say I miss the newspaper. I do sometimes worry over the health of journalism in an environment where anyone can say anything, and does, with very few people bothering to establish the authority of the person whose opinion and 'facts' they are taking as truth. And, in all honesty, the very environment makes such efforts difficult, at times. Respectable journalists, amateur and professional, are going to have to shape this space in some way, or all our views of the world outside will be filtered through ideologies, more or less hidden, and turned into diatribes we respect because we agree with them. That vision of the future of journalism is not one I want to see.

I don't miss the newspaper, but I go through plenty of news each morning: over 1,000 items of various length, on a diversity of topics. Google Reader delivers them all to one place, where I have sorted them into categories of my own, so that I may skip literature reviews and notices on a busy day and stick to the twenty or so news sources I have asked to send me their stories of the day.

In the days of the newspaper, I was not able to view this variety of sources or reach out to gather real international news. Our town has one newspaper. (It used to have two, but even then both were under the same ownership.) It is not a very good paper, and it is trying to get worse. It decided a few years ago that the reason newspaper readership was declining was the lack of color-coded sidebars, the elevated language (elevated language is not a thing newspapers are accused of, as a rule), and the lack of culturally uplifting material (more stories about us doing the things we like to do on weekends). When I read the local paper these days, I am confused. The annual arrival of the Christmas Fair in November is very likely to dominate the front page, pushing the President, Congress, and any international news to the bottom, continued on page 6.

Sometimes, when I could afford it, I subscribed to the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or some other reputable paper that might pay attention to newsworthy events and issues, instead of making that which did not matter into news. But, except for the Wall Street Journal, the newspapers were always a day late, and news heard a day late is not exactly news anymore. This is how things stood until I set up Google Reader to give me what I wanted.

For news, I read feeds from the BBC, the Christian Science Monitor, Al Jazeera, NPR, Reuters, Slate Magazine, and the Guardian. I love this access to a variety of sources on a single story; perspectives in the Middle East are not those of London or Washington D.C., and, putting multiple perspectives of an event side by side, one is able to see where the differences in the nature and details of an event lie. One is better able to make up one's own mind when more than one set of limited facts is available, and the limits operating on each set of facts do not completely mirror each other. It's a good way to start the day.

I also have access to feeds that merely feed my own interests. I receive science news from National Geographic, Nature, Cosmic Variance, and Discovery. I receive bulletins on international and national law from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, FindLaw, and others, so that I keep up with Supreme Court decisions and cases before the state and federal courts. I silence my geek jones with Gizmodo, Lifehacker, and Cool Tools. BoingBoing allows me to pretend I am in tough with a part of pop culture. O Say Can You See? from the Smithsonian and Letters of Note satisfy a different geek in me. I get book reviews and essays from the New York Times, the London Book Review, Boston, Chicago, and many readers and writers not associated with any newspaper or official organ at all. I follow a number of bloggers I have found to be intelligent, insightful, or fun.

I have a huge problem. I can't miss a day on Google Reader, and on the few occasions I have missed a day, or a week, as happened last fall when the flu made me a completely hopeless patient wishing for a coma, the sheer number of items overwhelms me. Then, I do the only thing I can do. I mark as read the thousands of items I have not read, preparing the Reader for a new day. And I don't really feel too bad about this. After all, the news isn't news if you read it too late; then, it is only history.

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