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Why print news is (nearly) dead to me

A couple of weeks ago I attended a panel at the Columbia School of Journalism on the future of newspapers. The panel was held in order to debate a recent piece by The American Prospect Editor Robert Kuttner. I have been writing a long response/rebuttal essay, which I will post a bit about in the coming week, but wanted to just throw out the following anecdote which exemplifies some of the arguments the essay makes.

This week, for some mysterious reason, I have begun to receive the Toronto Star newspaper, delivered daily, in hard copy, to my doorstep. Now for a news junkie, one would think this would be a gift from the gods. What could be better than beginning the day with a perusal of a large market daily? Well, a lot it would seem.

First, is the pure size of the thing. What a waste. Everyday it comes with half a dozen insert adds, some sort of quasi ‘magazine’ I won’t read, and five or six sections that are of absolutely no interest to me. After I have laboriously looked through the first section A, what do I do with the massive amount of paper? Well, straight to the recycle bin has been the trend. Unless you forget to do this for a couple of days, then the kitchen table disappears under an unwieldy mess of paper. I feel guilty just looking at the thing – talk about offending my ‘large market’ urban environmental sensibilities.

But by partaking in this ‘experience’ aren’t I strengthening our democracy by being civically engaged? Media types argue that there is something called ‘incidental reading’, that one can only get from print news. The theory goes that by flipping though the paper, one is exposed to stories they otherwise would not have sought out, thereby making them more knowledgeable citizens, and obviously strengthening the democracy in which they are now more actively participating. I won’t go into this in great length, as the essay goes into far greater, and slightly less sarcastic, detail, but suffice it to say, the theory is crap.

First, it would take an hour to go through the entire paper, all sections. Even if I do so, I am getting the news that the Toronto Star thinks is important. One source. Some democracy. This is not to say I don’t value the perspective or content of the Star, far from it, only that my relationship with them is not monogamous. Second, the internet is FAR better at providing incidental value added than a messy pile of paper. What do you think ‘surfing’ is? Even if I might want to know what the Star’s editorial board deems ‘news worthy’, I can look at their webpage (nicely redesigned I might add) and with the scroll of my mouse wheel, scan dozens of articles. How is this not exposing me to a wide range of content?

OK, I’ll save the other ten reasons why I don’t fully agree with Kuttner for the article. But how do others feel about this? Are there print news hold-outs among Oxblog readers? If so what do you like about it? (…and nostalgia doesn’t count, or proves my point, as the essay will explain)

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McCain vs. Ware

Point:

BLITZER: Here’s what you told Bill Bennett on his radio show on Monday.

MCCAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: “There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today.”

MCCAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: “The U.S. is beginning to succeed in Iraq.”

You know, everything we hear, that if you leave the so-called green zone, the international zone, and you go outside of that secure area, relatively speaking, you’re in trouble if you’re an American.

MCCAIN: You know, that’s why you ought to catch up on things, Wolf.

General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee. You want to — I think you ought to catch up. You see, you are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. We certainly don’t get it through the filter of some of the media.

But I know for a fact of much of the success we’re experiencing, including the ability of Americans in many parts — not all. We’ve got a long, long way to go. We’ve only got two of the five brigades there — to go into some neighborhoods in Baghdad in a secure fashion.

Counterpoint:

BLITZER: Let’s go live to Baghdad right now.

CNN’s Michael Ware is standing by — Michael, you’ve been there, what, for four years. You’re walking around Baghdad on a daily basis.

Has there been this improvement that Senator McCain is speaking about?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I’d certainly like to bring Senator McCain up to speed, if he ever gives me the opportunity. And if I have any difficulty hearing you right now, Wolf, that’s because of the helicopter circling overhead and the gun battle that is blazing just a few blocks down the road.

Is Baghdad any safer?

Sectarian violence — one particular type of violence — is down. But none of the American generals here on the ground have anything like Senator McCain’s confidence.

I mean, Senator McCain’s credibility now on Iraq, which has been so solid to this point, has now been left out hanging to dry.

To suggest that there’s any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I’d love Senator McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll.

And to think that General David Petraeus travels this city in an unarmed Humvee. I mean in the hour since Senator McCain has said this, I’ve spoken to some military sources and there was laughter down the line. I mean, certainly, the general travels in a Humvee. There’s multiple Humvees around it, heavily armed. There’s attack helicopters, predator drones, sniper teams, all sorts of layers of protection.

So, no, Senator McCain is way off base on this one — Wolf.

[…]

BLITZER: Michael, when Senator McCain says that there are at least some areas of Baghdad where people can walk around and — whether it’s General Petraeus, the U.S. military commander, or others, are there at least some areas where you could emerge outside of the Green Zone, the international zone, where people can go out, go to a coffee shop, go to a restaurant, and simply take a stroll?

WARE: I can answer this very quickly, Wolf. No. No way on earth can a westerner, particularly an American, stroll any street of this capital of more than five million people.

I mean, if al Qaeda doesn’t get wind of you, or if one of the Sunni insurgent groups don’t descend upon you, or if someone doesn’t tip off a Shia militia, then the nearest criminal gang is just going to see dollar signs and scoop you up. Honestly, Wolf, you’d barely last 20 minutes out there.

I don’t know what part of Neverland Senator McCain is talking about when he says we can go strolling in Baghdad.

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bits

A few random snippets on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Oxford:

Whatever the legal issues, Cheney is not coming out of the Libby trial in a very good light. However, it no longer matters politically.

With Blair’s increasing troubles with the cash-for-honours scandal the parallels between Chretien/Martin and Blair/Brown become increasingly eerie.

Krauthammer’s latest is a low for me. This line particularly grates: “We midwifed their freedom. They chose civil war.”

Why has Rice been so quiet lately? The Times argues that with Rumsfeld gone, she is the next to get the blame. Is she also though a victim of this admin’s animosity towards the State Dept? Surely she knew better than anyone that this was the case?

Magazines increasingly drive mainstream political blogging. A venture capitalist friend tells me that ads are not the future of professional blogging. Maybe so, but one model that is clearly emerging is the magazine hosted hub. Sullivan’s move first to Time and now to the Atlantic is a prime example. The magic combination seems to be a couple of full time big name bloggers, a few staff journalists with stand alone blogs, and a group blog with approximately 10 regular contributors. The NRO, The New Republic and Macleans in Canada are all good examples of this model. As a big Atlantic fan, I look forward to seeing where they go with their new online push. With Fallows writing regular posts, and Sullivan moving tomorrow, look for an Atlantic group blog in the near future).

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Would we still have freedom fries?

This, caught by Kevin Drum, is really quite remarkable:

On September 10 1956, Guy Mollet, the then French prime minister, came to London to discuss the possibility of a merger between the two countries with his British counterpart, Sir Anthony Eden, according to declassified papers from the National Archives, uncovered by the BBC.

Not surprisingly (insert bad trade analogy here), it didn’t go very far, but the tenacious Mollet was willing to dig deeper, putting French Nationalism itself on the table (insert surrender monkey joke here):

When Mr Mollet’s request for a union failed, he quickly responded with another plan – that France be allowed to join the British commonwealth – which was said to have been met more warmly by Sir Anthony.

Apparently, the offer was actually taken seriously by the Brits:

A document dated September 28 1956 records a conversation between the prime minister and his cabinet secretary, Sir Norman Brook, saying:

“The PM told him [Brook] on the telephone that he thought, in the light of his talks with the French:

· That we should give immediate consideration to France joining the
Commonwealth
· That Monsieur Mollet had not thought there need be difficulty over France
accepting the headship of her Majesty
· That the French would welcome a common citizenship arrangement on the
Irish basis.”

So what do les Francais vivants think of this revelation?:

“I tell you the truth – when I read that I am quite astonished,” the French Nationalist MP, Jacques Myard, told the BBC today.

“I had a good opinion of Mr Mollet before. I think I am going to revise that opinion. I am just amazed at reading this, because since the days I was learning history as a student I have never heard of this. It is not in the textbooks.”

I bet not.

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The History Boys

Check out Sullivan’s review of The History Boys. I agree that it was a wonderful movie, albeit from a somewhat more removed perspective than Andrew. I particularly liked how it kept elements of its theatrical origins. In many instances, you felt like you were watching a play. I do agree with the sentiment in his follow up post that the movie was a bit fatalistic on the prospects of gay adulthood, however it undoubtedly captures what I am sure is the inner torment of growing up as a gay teenager, particularly 20 years ago. It also did so in a way that was completely free of the dichotomizing, over sentimentalizing, and melodrama that invariably accompany treatments of the topic. Instead, various perspectives on growing up gay were only one quite natural part of an all-round great movie.

I should also note a feeling that the movie demonstrated very clear distinctions between British and North American sensibilities. Not in a pejorative way in either direction mind you. Just profoundly different. Did anyone else feel the same way?

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Person of the year

Congrats bloggers, you beat Ahmadinejad!


Stengel said if the magazine had decided to go with an individual, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the likely choice. “It just felt to me a little off selecting him,” Stengel said.

Question, why can’t Time pick an unpleasant character as person of the year? Is it because it is released over the holidays? Is it bad for sales? If it is acually the feel good person of the year, or the positive change person of the year, then perhaps Time should change the selection mandate.

ps. Should the policy implications of the choice, whether positive or negative, be considered?

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R2P, a policy wonk and a standed Liberal

A belated call out to three friends in the blogosphere:

First, a good friend and co-author David Eaves has finally started an eponymous blog. For as smart a guy with as many ideas as him, this is a natural and a long time coming.

Second, Adrian Bradbury, of Gulu Walk fame, has started a group blog on the Responsibility to Protect called Unwilling or Unable?

Unwilling or Unable? tosses the idea of the ‘responsibility to protect’ on the table and asks: Will we ever find the political will to live up to our commitment to ‘prevent, react and rebuild’ in the face genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity?

And third, due to a stealthy pseudonym, and several years incommunicado, DC Grit has gone under the radar in my Canadian blog roll. While I won’t tell you who she really is…I will send you to her site en-mass.

Enjoy!

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Best free hotspot in the world?

I nominate Bryant Park, where I am quite happily positioned at the moment. Warm evening, a drink, a fast free connection and superb people watching? Hard to beat, but what are some other suggestions? There are some good ones out there…