We still read newspapers, but have found a way to greatly reduce the time it takes. All this requires is a simple screening technique. The key concept behind the screen recognizes that certain topics do not vary in their general content to any significant degree; they are simply the same story repeated ad infinitum, with only minor differences in detail and with different dates. Skip these stories. Examples:
Car Bomb Kills 32. Need we say more? Exception: if the dateline of the story is Hyannis Port instead of one or another middle eastern hot spot, it may offer some interesting possibilities (angry lobstermen? Deranged Kopechne relative?). In fact, skip all stories with middle eastern datelines, unless they are about food. If anything really different happens over there, you’ll probably see it on The View before you read about it in the papers, which right now seem still unaware that our embassies there are under constant attack and have pretty much shut down.
Unemployment Still High and would be through the roof if we actually counted how many people are really out of work instead of jiggling the formula until the answer comes out a single digit. In fact, you can pretty much disregard anything in the newspapers about finance, as these articles are written by journalism majors who assiduously avoided any math or economics courses in college, and are too inept to qualify for important beats like politics or serial killers.
School Crisis Worsens and will continue to do so as long as we think, in spite of an Alps of evidence to the contrary, that throwing greater and greater gobs of cash at a Brobdingnagian bureaucracy will do anything more than increase its already-insatiable appetite for more administrators, consultants, metal detectors, broccoli salads and pseudocounselors. Until we find a way to actually get kids to sit in their seats and do their schoolwork, no amount of test-rigging, cafeteria design or positive reinforcement will arrest our steady slide into a world where U.S. schoolkids cannot name a country that starts with “U.” (Hint: U-nited…anyone?)
Politician Indicted For Fraud is an almost weekly occurrence in New York State; on a national scale, the numbers would require powers of ten if everyone with their hand in the community cookie jar could be identified. This falls into the “one cockroach in the kitchen, a thousand behind the wall” category of social phenomena. Given the appetite that the government has for the earnings of its citizens and the extraordinary inefficiency it brings to its operations, adding corruption to the equation seems like a grievous insult, but these shenanigans are now so commonplace and so calmly accepted that nothing short of outright plunder, accompanied by bundles of shrink-wrapped cash stacked in the freezer, suffices to attract any serious attention.
Study Shows precisely what its authors want it to show, whether it relates to the correlation between eating six times your body weight in raw sugar and an enlarged scrotum, the rate at which Arctic ice is turning into styrofoam, the increase in traffic accidents caused by teenagers texting snapshots of funny road signs, or how some types of exercise (aerobic caroling, minefield polo) may actually be harmful to your health. Given the number of “scientists” our universities turn out each year with little or no particular qualifications for useful employment, the number of hilariously-flawed and absurdly-premised research efforts we are daily showered with seems predictably, if lamentably, high. This, by the way, also may account to the “consensus” on “climate change.” Just because two hundred million Chinese firmly believed that a dragon was eating the sun (“Well, it’s disappearing, isn’t it??!!) did not make it so.
Obama/Romney have said/done/forgotten/insulted/visited/ignored/worshiped/stumbled across/slept with [whatever]. If you haven’t by now figured out that your chances of learning anything meaningful about either of these people by reading newspapers approaches the possibility of sheet ice forming on Mercury, you’re already lost. Listening to them speak directly is only slightly worse: remember who they are actually talking to. Do you really fit into that demographic? In any event, anyone still ”undecided” at this point is either a tease or a ditherer. Since, at this point, presidential politics and affiliated items make up about one-quarter of all newsprint, eliminating these stories alone from your daily reading should save you enough time to finally finish that needlepoint you’ve been working on since you quit smoking.
Giant Panda Cub Wins $128 Million Lotto. Bold, and possibly interesting, but obviously a piece of misdirection planted by the secret cabal of hedge fund billionaires to disguise some heinous transfer of wealth and avoid taxes.
Any and All Editorials and Op/Ed Pieces. These have all become the purview of those annoying people who, when they were in high school, could always be counted on to say something in class that was both irrelevant and completely wrong: ”Well, what if dinosaurs could talk? We wouldn’t know that, would we? Maybe a dinosaur wrote Macbeth.” Now they rail against whatever they cannot understand, which generally includes all things fiscal (see above), scientific (see above) or social (no one in high school wanted to hang out with them). My favorites remain the New York Times editorials, which frequently insist that “[so-and-so] must [whatever], as in “Romney must disclose his favorite porn star.” Still, although they “must,” no one ever does.
So — where do you get your information, then? Well, don’t bother. You actually never got any information, just the appearance of it. Newspapers exist purely for the purpose of persuasion and misdirection; raw information can’t be sprayed like bleach from a high pressure hose or people will die. Anything “factual” they tell you is either missing more pieces than a preschool jigsaw puzzle or invented from whole cloth by a reporter desperate to meet a deadline but afraid to leave his hotel room. Their definition of “balance” involves non-Newtonian physics and several hidden dimensions, and their opinion of your judgment is only slighter better than their regard for your privacy. ”The public has a right to know” is code for “if you don’t tell us what we want to know we’ll just make something up” and “freedom of the press” has more to do with unlimited credit at the bar than censorship.
There is something you can do, of course.
Remember those carefree days when the only part of your local rag you read was the comic section? When the paper’s only function was to make you laugh? Well — nothing’s changed. Just read the daily news with the same attitude you used to adopt when thumbing through the columns of newsprint searching for Archie and Jughead. This time, though, the humor’s in the printed word. And Archie and Jughead? Still there. Now they’re call “Mitt” and “Barack.”