Wednesday, June 19, 2013

To Bemoan the Death of Print Media

If the newspaper is dying, should we try and save it, or twist the knife?

For example, around ten years ago I read a book about the CEO's of the companies that Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathoway owns, and one of them was a newspaper. Specifically an evening newspaper.

Yes, an evening newspaper. A newspaper that was printed and distributed towards the end of the day, as opposed to the morning.

Now, evening newspapers as far as I know have ceased to be. The business model failed, probably with the advent of the TV. (Although the Mx and it's equivalents perhaps qualifies) But note that when I, and perhaps you think about technological advances, we tend to think of it in an additive nature, we didn't have ipods now we do etc. but we think less about the subtractive effect - the average person used to have shelves full of vinyl, now we don't.

And we used to have evening papers, now we don't.

Who misses them? I would argue, close to nobody. I feel confident in my estimation because if enough people missed evening newspapers, we would still have them.

Sure, that's one line that can be drawn. Let's draw it.

I stopped reading Newspapers or watching any news programming or indeed TV at all a number of years ago. For two reasons, the first was reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's (NNT) book 'The Black Swan' where without reproducing his argument basically applied Efficient Market Theory (EMT) to say there's no informational advantage from seeking out news, and that important news finds you. Thus most of the 24 hour news cycle is simply white noise.

The second part was a book my school made me read back in year 10 or 11, Elie Wiesel's 'Night' a personal account of the holocaust. In it, in the opening chapter, Elie's community is visited by a Jew that has escaped Nazi deportation and made it back to their unsuspecting town to inform them all that the Nazi's are deporting jews and killing them.

And nobody listens, and they end up being deported to the death camps.

And I thought, "here is the most pertinent and personally useful news one could ever have reach them. The most consequential fact to determining one's well being was presented in no uncertain language. And the recipients of this news, couldn't interpret or act upon it."

That anecdote came back to me reading NNT's book, and it seemed to confirm that a) newsworthy news finds you b) if the vast majority of news isn't (or is weakly) relevant to us, and we can't even act upon news that is strongly relevant to us, seeking news out is probably a waste of time.

is that line sufficiently drawn? If newspapers do dissappear, I think it's because they won't be missed. People have been increasingly learning to live without it.

There's other lines we can draw. But maybe you have me now pegged as somebody who won't really shed a tear when the newspapers go.

For those that think it would be a 'darn shame' if newspapers dissappeared I have to use a lot of imagination to represent that view perhaps poorly.

I imagine, what would be mourned is a service that reports objectively and dispassionately the kind of news of use to the general public. A force that kept governments accountable and the public informed, not just on public policy, but also on the state of the economy, the behaviour of the private sector and yes, even sports and the arts.

It would be a shame to lose these services, even I would miss this service. A great good would be lost.

I would suggest though that the 'if enough people would miss it, it wouldn't be in trouble.' It's just that two paragraphs up, what I describe, doesn't describe newspapers as they exist.

I have a confession. I do read a newspaper. I read the Herald Sun, when dining alone in McDonalds. (I confessed to a lot there) I can say I feel, that the Herald Sun is unequivocally and beyond a doubt what is commonly referred to as 'a rag'. I find it quite entertaining. But it's ability to inform is restricted only to informing me as to what people who seek information from it believe to consider themselves informed.

I would almost go as far as to say that the Herald Sun is almost 'unapologetic' in it's willingness to be passionately vested in its views, and would go as far as to say that it gives platform to people who simply should be excluded from most conversations.

I mean that's 'low hanging fruit' to attack a tabloid, but tabloids have good features as well, like employing accessible language. But hopefully it's enough to raise the question - would our quality of life be improved if a newspaper like the Herald Sun disappeared or ceased to be?

To quote Sam Harris, or perhaps paraphrase it - "just let that thought detonate in your minds for a moment."

And that is the question, a news service that informs is something worthy of grieving, of doing our all to save it and preserve and extend it's life. When you are looking at the demise of a news service that is contentious, perhaps misinforming, or just plane distracting, then consider that people could be more informed simply if that voice were to be silenced.

It's hard being in Australia, and switching on the TV or opening any newspaper and not to wish that these mediums would hurry up and die, and perhaps if it's too much to ask, to die with a little dignity.

Few people would call working in a call center a position of privilege, but I do, because I'm in a position to realise that people in small country towns have come to worry most about some of the weakest, most vulnerable of human beings arriving on boats, and of a conspiracy of scientists seeking tenure money by inventing 'climate change' and trying to destroy our economy.

These people shouldn't care about these issues, because they don't effect them. Voting on these issues will barely effect their quality of life or pursuit of happiness at all.

Just as people could be more informed with less news, the plight of refugees in this country could be a lot better paradoxically if most Australian's were completely indifferent to their plight. I'm not sure the same could ever be said of the fight for our survival known as 'climate change' so I'll just leave it there.

No comments: