Saturday, January 26, 2008

Why newspapers suck

This quote-of-the-day sums it up:
Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock. - Ben Hecht (1893 - 1964)
Dose is the best daily newspaper I've seen, and the only free daily I had ever encountered when it appeared in Calgary two or three years ago. Sadly, they quit publishing here after just more than a year. A few months ago, my eyes bugged out upon noticing not one but three new free daily newspapers had appeared on our sidewalks: "24 Hours", "Metro" and "Rush Hour". Guess what, they all suck. Besides having much less content than Dose (you can read all their "real" news in 10 minutes, leaving you only with entertainment/celebrity crap), they don't have the personality of Dose and, like the paid-for papers, they follow the Ben Hecht model above.

I think the best thing about Dose was that they didn't follow that mold. They didn't tell you just the latest tiny piece of data about an ongoing story, but summarized the whole thing. They would have one or two full pages on a single topic (with no ads, and not huge pages, but not small either). It wouldn't be one article, but several on related issues, typically with one article giving a concise, useful overview of the topic dating way, way back. Traditional newspapers will tell you, day after day after day, how many people of what race were killed in Israel that day, and even their mode of death (gunfire? rocket attack? suicide bomb!!), but only Dose would tell you that Israel invaded and occupied Sinai and Gaza in 1967. Traditional newspapers will tell you that the homicide yesterday was the 14th of the year; Dose would give you long-term crime trends.

Yeah, Dose had their celebrity gossip too. They had "sex advice from strangers". But they had enough interesting material to keep me reading for a good half hour.

It's remarkable how little I learn from the news I read, because the media doesn't tie things together. It's also remarkable how useless newspapers are for forming an opinion, not just because they give facts without context, but because, in their obsession with seeming impartial they make no judgements or evaluations. Regarding their chosen topic, the paper tells you what officials X and Y say, what witnesses and experts (selected by the newspaper) say, and if you're lucky you may get an report from an unidentified source. But in case of conflicting reports, they do not attempt to determine who is telling the truth--at least until you get to the opinion section, if the paper has one, in which highly partisan pundits try to tell you what to believe, backed up only by some speculation and emotion-soaked logic.

Dose couldn't fit all pertinent details into their one-page reports, but it's remarkable that I could learn more from one page of Dose than from years of traditional news reports. Come back, Dose. I'll even pay for you.

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