Where the News Is
Where do you get your news?
What resource do you usually use to stay current?
I no longer read my local paper. It's not a great loss. I live in El Paso, TX, a city of 782,541 according to the Texas Department of State Health Services (http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/chs/popdat/ST2011.shtm), right on the border with one of those Latin American cities vying for the "murder capital of the world" title. You would think there would be plenty of news worthy of coverage here, but you would be wrong. We have one newspaper, and it appears to be devoted to a Lifestyles and Happy Camper agenda that just does not serve the reader well. So, I don't read it. Strangely, many years ago when I was a teen, this city, much smaller then, had two newspapers. They were, however, owned by the same umbrella company, and one of them was axed.
For a while, I subscribed to the New York Times , and it had some splendid reporting, but also a large amount of corruption, falsification, and outside the editor's page editorializing, so I let that lapse. Anything of importance that comes out of the NYT I can access without a subscription, and on the same day the paper is published. With a subscription here in West Texas, the paper arrives a day late under a subscription, when the news value of it is stale. Same with the Washington Post . There is just not much to do with a newspaper the day after its publication except line birdcages, and I don't own birds.
Instead, I get most of my news through Google Reader. Great thing the Internet, putting the world within a couple of keystrokes. Unfortunately, with my wide range of interests, Google Reader gets crowded, and if I fail to go through it everyday it becomes bloated, I ditch everything I haven't read and start again with a blank slate. When I was on vacation this summer I left my computer at home. When I returned, I went straight to "Mark All as Read". The week, except for Lego adventures, is a complete blank for me.
Why is this on my mind? Well, I am sitting in front of my computer while the rest of the house sleeps going through Reader, catching up with the news. I am not even halfway done and have several stories from different sources marked for more in depth reading: Heinrich Boere's conviction and a story on Sheriff Joe Arpaio from the BBC, coverage of the most recent Republican debate from the Christian Science Monitor , Reuter's on U.S. Navy ships in Singapore and the Philippines and a separate story on the U.Ns call for the protection of homosexuals and transgender people in the world. I haven't even gotten to the International Herald, the Guardian, NPR, CFR, or the Daily Beast yet. And then there's my science feeds, book reviews, comics, miscellaneous feeds I find interesting, including a couple on old photographs, a few legal feeds, and Congo Siasa, a blog by Jason Stearns, author of a wonderfully insightful book on modern central Africa.
I have gone from famine conditions to an overburdened table, and I like the burden.
But what about all the news I don't read? Am I only listening to voices I agree with? This, I think, is one of the dangers of the ability to sort the news and create my own virtual newspaper: I don't put anything in there I don't want. The voices have been edited for my convenience. Even where I find the news troubling, it comes from sources I feel some affinity with, that I trust, that I think have something to say to me about issues. Alternative voices just are not there. Opposing viewpoints are treated in the sources I read as I assume they should be treated as my opponents: with ridicule, with critical analyses that may not be applied to viewpoints I find more agreeable, and with suspicion. I have created a partisan forum, despite the geographical breadth of my sources.
I worry about this, especially as the fight over who will be the Republican candidate for president continues with a noticeable increase in hostility by the participants, sometimes only for each other, but sometimes for the society at large and those social segments I consider my own. I worry about it because I find myself unable to understand the other sides of our cultural and political debate. I am increasingly forgetting how to hear them, how to listen to them, without retreating into the cocoon of my own beliefs and tendencies. Am I falling into the same ideological-laden trap of reaction and indignation that I accuse many Republicans of existing within? Am I failing democracy, in a literate, elitist form of betrayal, but a betrayal nonetheless? I don't know. I don't think so, but I worry about it. I don't think the separation of the body politic into us and them is a healthy one in a functioning democracy. Sometimes I think I don't live in a functioning democracy at all, especially when the number of voters in the most recent election are brought out and I realize how few of this nation's citizens are even bothering with their civic duty to vote and to be heard.
I have a wealth of information at my fingertips, and I am feeling increasingly ill-informed and mis-informed. With so much information available, so many sources to choose from, I am aware of a wealth of opinions, resources, and viewpoints of which I was entirely ignorant only a few short years ago. I have become aware of what I lack, when before what I did not know did not bother me. Ignorance made the little I had seem bounteous.
Is this a common concern? I don't know, but it is not common to my friends and family here. They seem satisfied that they have the correct information, are following the right leads, and have formed a well-informed opinion, without dwelling on what they have missed and rejected along the way. That is just not my way. Maybe it comes from spending so much of my time researching, digging, looking for facts in the debris of guesswork, illusion, and falsification that forms the historical record. Maybe I should have stayed and English major and been satisfied with creative writing as a hobby, not history. Maybe that would make this entire mess less disconcerting.
Well, I have news to read. I'll write again soon, if I have the time.