Day 24: Follow an ongoing global event through newspapers


Du denkst, du musst doch einen Stoff weben, weil du vor einem — wenngleich leeren — Webstuhl sitzt und die Bewegungen des Webens machst.

As of today, I haven’t opened a newspaper in 24 days. The only times I have visited a newspaper online, has been through web searches for specific information. I have no idea what’s “going on in the world”, neither in the NBA nor any other news. And I feel much better for it.

And now I should follow a global event through newspapers? I don’t think I want to.

Don’t get me wrong, I still try to be curious, I want to know as much as possible. And it matters to me what the politicians are up to, pollution matters to me, schools, business life, hospitals, environmental issues — all these things matter, and it doesn’t help anyone, least of all me, to hide in a cave for the rest of my life. I am part of society and as such should do my best to make society a better place to live.

But doing that by reading newspapers is like kicking your cat to help your favourite football team score.

I’ve already made it a rule that I don’t want to read newspapers; it was my second rule (the first was to grow a big, white beard), and I am more convinced than ever that it’s a good rule. Why? Let me count the ways.

  • Newspapers are businesses, they have to make money. When there is no subscription fee, when the content is free online, they make their money from advertising. Advertisers care mostly about the number of visitors. And what content gets the most clicks? Clickbaits: celebrities, howto-guides to help you be healthy/thin/happy, bizarre events, sports, cute babies and kittens. It’s way to easy to click on links like these — “The bizarre way Justin Bieber stays fit”; “David Beckham’s kitten and son play the piano together!” — just out of curiosity.
  • Way too many newspapers see it as their job, their calling, to make all news snappier, easier digestible, more tabloid. If they don’t, no-one will read them (I suppose that’s what they think. Or perhaps that’s the way most journalists prefer their news?) A normal session in parliament is not news, but when one MP thanks another for last night, meaning something far less risqué than it would seem — clear the frontpage!
  • Nothing beats breaking news. This is happening right now! (Watching re-runs of basketball games is not as good as watching them live.) You must pay attention! Stay glued to the screen! But the flip side is that nothing beats breaking news in being shallow and sensationalist either. When something just happened, it’s very hard for anyone to know why and how it happened. “This just in: a bus has been hijacked somewhere between Fjærland and Sogndal. We don’t know anything else at the moment, but stay tuned. Untill then, we have an expert who will guess what might have happened.”
  • You read the newspapers to see if anything has happened. You finished reading them and think, wow, lots of things have happened, and lots of things will happen tomorrow as well (what will the contestants from some reality show bicker about tomorrow? only one way to find out!) — and you only dimly realise that there are billions of billions of events in the world, many of them far more important for you and everyone else, that don’t receive one iota of attention. If you don’t find information elsewhere, you will believe that the newspaper reality is the most important reality, or perhaps even that newspapers define what is really important in your life. (One example: it’s cheaper and easier to cover something happening in Oslo than all the way up in the northern parts of Norway, so you write more about the event in Oslo — but that doesn’t say anything about importance. Except that it instinctively does for every reader.)
  • Almost all newspapers articles are written in the same way. You have the same eye-catching title, the same intriguing lead paragraph, the same types of questions and answers, the same language, the same pomposity and seriousness. It’s as if journalists seem to believe that writing the proper journalese makes even inane articles about bickering celebrities important.
  • Reading about things you cannot do anything about, creates a feeling of helplessness: you are not in control of your own life, of the important stuff, all you can do is sit on a couch and watch a screen where they tell you how everything turns out. You get the mindset of a curious bystander, always looking and pointing, but never doing anything about the situation, never thinking you can do anything. (It’s like being a baby and not realising you actually can chew your own food, you don’t have to be given this ready-made gooey mash for the rest of your life.)
  • If you want to know what’s in, or hot, or who’s winning and who’s not, you should read the newspapers. If you want to understand the world, you should first read books and longer articles, you should have discussion with all kinds of people, you should try to see the longer lines and the bigger picture. Random facts about a bomb here and a bomb there won’t help you understand why there are bombs, and how to prevent them appearing in the first place. It only increases your fear.

Yes, there are articles in newspapers worth reading. Guardian’s series of articles on the transgressions uncovered by Edward Snowden, for instance, were an example of what journalism at its finest can be.

But there is so much noise in the newspapers, even the Guardian (it took me five seconds to find an article about Justin Bieber —  I had hoped it would be more difficult), and it’s always much harder than I think to forget the unimportant stuff. I’ll remember “Justin Bieber drunk” for days and days now, probably even for years, it’ll be like an ear worm who refuses to get out no matter how much I beg it to.

And I don’t want that. So I’ll keep on not reading newspapers, not watch news on TV, not listen to news on the radio. If something important happens, something really important, I have friends and family who surely will tell me. And if they don’t, it won’t be important enough, and it doesn’t really matter, I can guess more or less what will be in the news anyway.

News are fire works for the myopic. Myself, I prefer sunsets in the horizon.