Reading habits change as “newspapers of record” have become my “sites of record”

English newspapers

There was a time when one or two newspapers in every country had the reputation of being the “newspaper of record”. The Times of London, The Daily Telegraph, The New York Times, Washington Post, Pravda, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Le Monde, The Times of India, El Pais and Corriere della Sera to name but a few.  They had reputations for objective news reporting and separated news and opinion rigorously. Of course, this reputation was never fully deserved since they often also represented “political correctness” or the “establishment view”.  Financial news of any note had to be in The Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal. Reuters and AFP and AP and UPI were the wire services considered infallible. The coming of Radio added immediacy but did not change the power structure in news reporting very much except to add a few more names to the “media of record”. The BBC and the Voice of America led the way but while the BBC was perceived as being fairly objective, the Voice of America was always seen as being mainly factual but with an obvious propagandist agenda.

The advent of TV news started an irreversible change. As news-only channels and cable TV proliferated and as countries all developed their own wire-services, radio and TV stations (often state owned), the blending of factual reporting with opinion was both inevitable and unavoidable. Even the factual reporting became selective depending upon the opinion to be disseminated. All that has evolved further with the coming of the internet and the explosion of the blogosphere. “Factual news” devoid of opinion is almost impossible to find anymore though the wire services probably come closest. To make life even more confusing – but also more interesting – opinion now often masquerades as fact.  Fantasy can be presented as reality and opinion presented as science. Every medium has a political agenda. Journalism sometimes consists as much of making news as reporting it. Polls of how readers “think it should be” replaces “how it is”.  Consensus opinion is taken to be fact. It places an increasing demand on the reader to be discerning, to try and sort out fact from opinion and reality from propaganda.  And trying to be a discerning reader takes time.

The number of news sites available on-line is enormous and I only visit a selected few. No doubt my selection of sites itself represents and reinforces my biases. My selections do change – but not daily. There is no single site I completely trust to have separated fact from opinion. Sites with intrusive or aggressive advertising are irritating, tend to become very slow and lose my interest. I do go to some Murdoch sites but many are behind stringent pay-walls. They are all very strong on opinion and I perceive that they tend to “doctor” news – by omission – to suit their opinions. The Times has completely abdicated its former position and is no longer of much significance. The Times of India has become a nightmare of rather ineffective advertising and I don’t visit unless directed there for something specific. The Hindu has taken over from the ToI and is the only “quality” paper left in India. The Guardian and the Washington Post are  prone to omitting facts they don’t like or which don’t fit their opinions. They still see themselves as virtuous crusaders and they always know what is best for others. But I still do visit them to keep some balance. CNN on TV is just too flaky and some of their journalists are intolerably incompetent. I do watch CNN and Al Jazeera on hotel room TV’s when I am travelling but only if BBC is not available.  For on-line news CNN is eclipsed by the BBC and I visit CNN only for “breaking US news”. But the BBC itself is not immune to “political correctness” as they perceive it.

It used to take me not more than about 45 – 60 minutes every morning with 2 cups of coffee to go through 2 or 3 print newspapers (with the choice dependent upon where I was living) . It now takes me about 90 minutes and two cups of coffee every morning before I am ready to start doing “my own thing”. I usually start the morning 0n-line by scanning the world news starting with the BBC and then shifting to  Japan and moving around the world East to West. It takes me about 30- 45 minutes to scan my selected sites and bookmark some 5 – 8 articles for a further 30 – 45 minutes of reading. I usually go to specialist subject sites and the blogosphere only after that and when I have time during the day.  But this probably represents another 2 hours of my time every day. Compared to 30 years ago I probably spend 3 or 4 times as much time today on reading news. The news I cover is much wider in scope than it ever was. It is also deeper because trivia is more strictly ignored and subjects for further reading are selected with greater precision. I certainly have opinions on many more subjects today than I would have had 30 years ago. The sites where opinion masquerades as fact are the most time consuming. It is noticeable that though there is a large grey zone between the newspapers (on-line) and blogs, the blogs are much more transparently opinionated. I tend to balance many of the more blatantly biased blogs against each other (e.g. HuffPo against Drudge or Daily Kos against Red State) as a matter of course but I don’t avoid them.  But I still look for confirmation of blog information at the traditional newspapers or wire services. Blogs are a way for me to stop getting stuck in the rut of “political correctness” but the blogs alone do not serve.

So this is my current list of my “sites of record” which are my regular ports of call. They are – individually – not as authoritative or as objective as “newspapers of record” were perceived to be, but together – after eliminating opinion – they are probably a more accurate and more comprehensive “record” of happenings around the world than the newspapers of old ever were. And 30 years ago there was no way I could have covered the world news as I can do now. I perceive that I can choose to be as informed as I wish to be about any subject anywhere in the world and not – as 30 years ago – be restricted to whatever was dished up for my consumption.


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